One of the things I love about the Internet is that it has democratized publishing. We all can have a voice and can share information online without having it dictated, approved or edited by anyone but ourselves. Unfortunately, that is also the problem with the Internet. You know those lengthy dry articles you are writing to showcase your knowledge and professionalism and get better search engine results, written in tiny text with dull headlines and no images? No one is going to tell you that you are barking up the wrong tree.
The silence you hear is me shaking my head and thinking, “What a waste of time.” If they had less space and more strategy, these posts would be far more readable.
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So why do so many people fall into the trap of droning on with boring content on the Internet? Could one of them be you? If any of these descriptions sound like you, the answer might be yes.
- I learned everything I needed in the 90s. Your company wrote long, boring articles in the same newsletter that you are still sending out, and if someone wants to download a hard copy, you still post a pdf. Why change?
- Serious is my middle name. You believe that your writing is of utmost thoughtfulness and must be treated in a formal, serious manner.
- Look into my horn-rimmed glasses. Looking smart is important to you. You think that writing in the passive voice and using multi-syllable words will persuade readers of your intelligence.
- Follow the leader. Other sites in your niche write ponderous copy, so you surely have to follow suit. Your writing signals to peers that you know how to follow rules and do it right.
- The sound you hear is me typing in a cave. You really have no idea that what works today to attract your right clients and have them want to work with you.
- I’m a one-trick pony. You don’t know how to communicate your ideas in a way they can be accessed and remembered.
Conversation is Key
Most of us have terrible stories about learning to write. At Catholic school, I got my share of papers returned with red slashes all over them. Transferring to a public high school in San Diego, I doubt I ever wrote a paper. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I attended class with so many students that no papers were assigned. In grad school, I discovered the hard work of drafting, proofing and revising several times. Was I shocked!
Eventually I learned to do a pretty good job writing technical papers and grant proposals. There was a formula and I finally mastered a form of safe writing. That mindset carried over to blogging. At first I stuck with safe tutorials and how-to posts. As I continued to suit up each and every Wednesday to write my posts, I realized I was starting to bore myself, and I refused to let that happen. If I didn’t want to read my writing, I surely couldn’t expect others to.
Slowly I began to let myself tell stories. I began to editorialize on my topic, letting out my perspective and knowledge as a psychologist without even realizing it. I felt vulnerable and exposed. “Am I talking too much about myself?” I would ask the staff. No, they’d tell me that people wanted to learn through my stories. I was offering answers to their fear, anxiety and ignorance about websites and web marketing. They wanted to know what I thought and get to know me. And so I continue my adventures in writing and sharing my experience, strength and hope.
I understand that it is not easy to give up dry and safe. But if you really want to connect with people, if you want them to understand what you know and why it is important, you will have to take some risks. You will have to write something people actually care about, and the way you write it needs to be compelling.
If you need more reason to change, here’s a fact: It’s hard for people to remember things written in a formal tone even if they want to. It’s hard to pay attention to stuffy, passive text. It’s not because your readers have ADHD. We all glaze over when we confronted with dull, bland, pompous, boring blather. I know because I’ve dished out plenty of it and read even more of the same.
We remember things that our brains think are important— and our brains think conversations are important. I am not making this up. Neuropsychologists have discovered this habit. And if a conversation is funny or emotional, we sit up and pay attention even more.
By doing that, you are more likely to get your point across. When people like you, they read you and remember you.
How do you start?
1. Stop overthinking. You have a topic that you want to share with your readers. Just let it out. Yes, you may have to rewrite a time or two, but just get it out.
2. Write the way you talk. Write conversationally. Think about your post as a letter to a good friend.
3. Write to a specific reader. Think of a person that you know could really benefit from your information. Talk to that person. When writing a newsletter, drop the person’s name into the text, use a variable like <firstname>, that pulls the name from your newsletter database and inserts it wherever, you’d like. Do this and even though they know it is a newsletter people will feel that you are talking just to them. They can tell that you care about getting this information across to them. When you try to write to everyone, you kill your message.
4. Please don’t use jargon. If you can say it simply, then say it. In some industries the jargon is almost impossible to penetrate. Marketers writing for other marketers are some of the worst offenders.
4. Go ahead and rebel. Question authority. It’s OK to break the rules. Feel free to make paragraphs with a single sentence. Go crazy and start a sentence with the words “and” or “but.’
5. Let yourself use contractions. Despite what Sister Loretta Joseph told you in the fifth grade, contractions make you sound like you and your writing more engaging. They make your sentence flow.
6. Stop with the passive voice. It is easier for your audience to engage with writing when you are using active verbs and declarative sentences. Check out the difference between hearing these two sentences: Some mistakes were made. Versus: Our team made some mistakes. A big difference, right?
7. Tell stories. Use the power of narrative to draw people into your posts and keep them interested. Stories make complicated topics more accessible.
8. Don’t ramble. This is an important reason to revise. Take out about a fourth of what you have written. Make sure your finished piece is concise and to the point.
9. Don’t use a large word when a short one will do. Short words with fewer syllables are easier to read. You can check it how you are doing with the Readability Index Calculator to determine how easy a paragraph is to read. This calculator implements the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease criteria.
10. Read your post out loud. Your ears will tell you how your writing comes across. If your words sound dry and boring to you, then you can be sure your readers will feel that way—or worse.
Writing is hard. Curing dull writing syndrome doesn’t happen overnight. You might have to wrestle with your concerns about what your audience will think of you. Please don’t worry too much and let that stop you. Formal language stands in the way of getting your point across.
To break out, try one or two of my writing tips, and soon they will become second nature. Your readers will thank you, and there will be many more of them attracted to reading the real you and all that you have to share.