If you think back to your high school English class, you may recall having been taught that the written word is different from the spoken word. That it requires more formality, that it must be “proper.” These lessons may have been cemented into place by a workplace requiring you to be “professional.”
But “professional,” “proper” writing in the everyday business world can come across as stiff and mechanical.
Writing does need to be somewhat more correct than the spoken word, partly because there’s no vocal inflection to clarify intent should an incorrect construction be used. But aside from general correctness for clarity, much business writing can use a more relaxed, conversational tone than many of us were taught.
Why to use a conversational tone
Why would you want to use a conversational tone? Especially in business? Two big reasons.
To make your writing accessible
When you use a conversational tone, it becomes easier for readers to follow your train of thought. They don’t have to consult the dictionary for unfamiliar words or struggle to dissect long, awkwardly-constructed-yet-grammatically-correct sentences. They can simply receive the message you want to give them.
To connect with readers emotionally
When writing contains emotion, readers engage with it more. But emotion doesn’t have to mean DRAMA. It can simply mean genuineness—a sense that a real person rather than a robot wrote this quarterly report or business book. An emotional connection helps readers be more open to the message you want to give them.
In a nutshell, writing conversationally helps you get your point across more easily and in a way readers are more likely to pay attention to.
Tips to create a conversational tone
A few simple adjustments can decrease the formality in your writing so it’s more conversational.
Relax the rules
All the rules you learned in English class? Follow them most of the time, but relax them occasionally. Use an incomplete sentence. If it helps emphasize a point. Feel free to strategically split infinitives. And you can start a sentence with a conjunction.
Talk to your reader
Hallo, you! Avoid the formality of “one”; talk to the reader with “you” instead. Rather than writing “When one travels abroad, one must carry a passport…” write “When you travel abroad, don’t forget your passport.”
In speech, we use contractions without even thinking. We say “I don’t want to go” or “I can’t go” rather than “I do not want to go” or “I cannot go.” Unless you are emphasizing a point—“I really would not go if I were you”—feel free to use contractions in writing as you would in speech.
Reduce syllable count
Avoid polysyllabic SAT words. Go short and sweet. Instead of “utilize,” choose “use.” Instead of “commence,” use “start.” (Uh, unless of course you are sesquipedalian in everyday conversation, in which case I suppose polysyllabic SAT words would be conversational.)
Speak your content
If you find the act of writing results in excessively formal language, try speaking your content first. Record it to capture a conversational tone. Then transcribe it and work with it from there.
Conversational tone bonus
Writing conversationally lets you come across as a real person and connect with your readers, so you can better make your point. But you also may find that using a conversational voice makes it easier to write.
And who doesn’t like that?
Want to be even more “real”? Try these tips for showing some personality. Not sure if your writing hits the mark for authenticity? Give me a shout at 919.609.2817. Let’s talk.