9 Ways to Make Your Writing More Compelling
Photo by taiyofj.
You don’t need to be a freelance writer to have a good reason to improve your writing skills.
Whether it’s marketing copy for your client, a sales pitch to a client, or a cover letter for your resume, all of us need to write in a way that is compelling, interesting, and unique.
If your cover letter is enthralling, you get the interview. If you’re persuasive, you make the sale. If you’re convincing, you get a slice of the new budget (maybe).
Here are nine ways to make all of your writing more compelling and interesting:
1. Don’t hedge
“Hedging” is when you go out of your way to cover every contingency in an argument. Example: “Nowadays almost all middle-school girls have at least some affinity for vampires.” The hedges are “almost all” and “at least some affinity.” These may be strictly true, but it’s soft, pudgy wording that lacks punch. Instead: “Nowadays middle-school girls love vampires.”
2. Repeat a phrase
Repetition establishes structure and rhythm. Repetition taps into the old part of our brain that loves rhyme and meter. Repetition pulls the reader into the flow of your writing. Repetition isn’t difficult to use. Repetition is annoying if overused.
3. No passive voice
Passive voice is when you switch the positions of the subject and object of a sentence. For example: “The boy hit the ball” is in active voice; passive voice is: “The ball is hit by the boy.” Notice how passive voice uses more words without adding information — usually a sign of unclear writing. The wrongness of passive voice isn’t universal, but wouldn’t it have been clearer if I had said that passive voice isn’t always wrong?
I don’t care how good your writing is, most people won’t read more than a few sentences. Any more and they’ll start scanning. You probably aren’t reading this article exactly from top to bottom are you? You can fight it by being more entertaining, but the best way is to just write less.
5. Use short sentences.
Short sentences are easy to read. They’re easy to digest. It’s easier to follow each point of an argument. Sometimes longer sentences — especially when divided up with dashes — are an appropriate tool, especially mixed in with shorter sentences to mix things up. But usually, shorter is better.
6. Provoke, don’t solve
If you’re writing a report that is supposed to cover all the bases, this tip doesn’t apply. But if you’re trying to be persuasive, don’t try to handle every objection in one sitting. Your goal is to get the other person to respond: To ask you about a feature of your product, to challange you about a competitor, to double-check something before scheduling an interview. Don’t solve every problem, leaving no stone unturned; leave them wanting more! This is especially good advice for writing blog posts.
7. Eliminate trash adjectives
Most adjectives and adverbs don’t add information; they just take up space and dull your message. Example: “I’m very interested in quickly scheduling an in-person interview.” Remove the adjectives and you get the same message, but sharper: “I’m interested in scheduling an interview.”
8. Tell a story
I knew a guy named George who couldn’t figure out why people couldn’t understand the benefits of his software. He had feature and benefit bullet points but they just weren’t sinking in. One day George changed his tactics completely: He wrote up a one-paragraph story about how one of his customers saved $125k by using his software. After that, sales were a lot easier.
9. Write informally
Sure, informal writing isn’t “professional.” And yeah, using phrases like “and yeah” violates the “brevity” rule, but it’s often a good idea to write like you speak. Being informal makes you come off as a real person, not a stodgy, robotic copy writer. ‘course, it can git too durned much, s’don’t go ’round makin’ it hard to understand what in blazes yur talking ’bout.
They say first impressions are most important, and often your written word will be the first impression someone has of you! So take the time to make it compelling.
What tips do you have for compelling prose? Share them in the comments and we’ll all improve.