10 Velcro Writing Tips to Make Your Messages Stick
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Books and blogs, proposals and articles, e-mails and even texts. The number we churn out keeps growing. No wonder we’re tempted to dash them off so we can scratch them off our to-do lists. But it’s precisely because we write more than ever that we have to work even harder to engage our readers.
In this age of TMI (too much information), we need to capture readers’ attention, revive their overworked brains, and even entertain them. Sounds daunting, but help lies in that bestseller on your bedside table. Fiction writers have perfected techniques we can borrow to make our nonfiction communications just as exciting. (Writing fiction? Make sure you're using these tips, too!)
Writing Tip #1: Create similes. Like the adage “A picture’s worth 1,000 words,” similes paint pictures that not only cut verbiage but speed up comprehension. They help readers quickly understand a complex idea by comparing it to something familiar. For example, a cattle farmer explaining why grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed told me that the grain diet is “like eating chocolate cake three times a day.” In an instant, he’d made his case .Who wouldn’t turn green with empathy just imagining how that would feel? A couple more examples:
– The new healthcare website is like a doctor on call. – The software is like a personal trainer, keeping your budget in shape.
Writing Tip #2: Make metaphors work for you. Metaphors are similar to similes, only instead of being like something, they are something.
– Our software is a personal trainer that strengthens your marketing strategies and keeps your budget in shape. – The program is a virtual cafeteria, offering personal choices, fast service, and something sweet at the end.
Writing Tip #3: Rock with rhythm and rhyme. When we read, we hear the words, so rhythm matters. And rhymes add more than just flow and creativity. In the bestseller Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, author Robert B. Cialdini explains that rhyming offers greater “processing fluency.” In laymen’s terms, our brains have an easier time understanding and retaining rhyming phrases. For instance:
– The Influence of Affluence — book title – The Residence of the Presidents — tagline of historic Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. – From boring to soaring — marketing copy
Stuck for a rhyme? Head over to www.rhymezone.com.
Writing Tip #4: Incorporate dialogue. Pay attention to how fiction writers use dialogue. Elmore Leonard is considered the king of dialogue. Study one of his novels—or read his amusing 10 Rules of Writing. Dialogue introduces different voices and makes the page appear lighter and more appealing to the eye.
Writing Tip #5: Wake up the senses. Fiction writers know how to draw us in by awakening our senses. When writing a report about a problem, for example, grab readers' attention by showing how people typically react to the situation. Are their hands shaking as they try a complicated device? Are they frowning, muttering under their breath, or scratching their heads? Is the room filled with an unmistakable sense of dread? Put yourself in the situation and imagine it fully—the feelings, smells, tastes, sounds, and sights. Not all senses are appropriate every time; pick the ones that will trigger your readers’ emotions and immerse them in your message.
– Quiet penetrated the once-bustling office. – The staff looked relieved, audible sighs punctuating the president’s announcement.
Writing Tip #6: Tell tales. From troubadours to griots, we’ve captured our history through stories. (Only recently have we written our thoughts, let alone tweeted them!) Stories set you apart and make your message more memorable. Based on MRI tests while people were reading stories, scientists now know that stories activate the brain in ways far more creative than the words they’re reading. Stories conjure memories, trigger emotions, and resonate in personal ways that create connections and buy-in. Keep a journal or a few index cards nearby so you can jot down favorite life and workplace stories. Don’t worry now about how to use them—just take inventory and keep it handy. (Often stories that have the least to do with business make the biggest impact when you tie them into your message.) Writing Tip #7: Foreshadow. Set up a situation and withhold important information. For instance, “Next year, five key accounts could be in the hands of our competitor ABC, Inc.” Now intersperse throughout your content the steps your audience can take to avoid this outcome. You’ll create drama and tension by doling out key points that keep your readers reading.
Writing Tip #8: Create scenarios. Play with possibilities. What would it be like if this happened or that didn’t happen? Create scenarios that paint colorful images. Who wouldn’t keep reading lead paragraphs like these?
Scary scenes from last century seem ho-hum by today’s standards. Godzilla destroying Manhattan? No biggie. Martians landing? Bring ‘em on! Threats from the Soviet Union? All gone. But one scene still plays with bone-chilling intensity: an employee cleaning out his desk, flanked by security guards ready to rush him onto the street. No handshakes. No farewells. No dignity.
Writing Tip #9: Add a touch of alliteration. that lyrical repetition of initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables, as in "rock with rhythm and rhyme" (Writing Tip #3) and Better Business Bureau. Newspaper and magazine headline writers have long relied on alliteration to draw readers in. Alliteration also increases memorability. A few examples:
– Pink Slips that Save Pain – Coping With Cranky Customers – Business Breakthroughs
A word of caution: Alliteration is like hot chiles—a little goes a long way. It can also add a more jocular tone that may not be appropriate in some situations.
Writing Tip #10: Vivify your verbs. Not every “to be” verb is boring; sometimes they’re the most efficient way to make your point. But too many “is,” “are” or “were,” and readers will soon be z-z-z-z-z. Vivid verbs wake up your prose—and your readers:
(To be) He is bringing everyone together. (Vivid) He galvanizes the staff. (To be) The copy is full of errors. (Vivid) Errors choke the content—and its message.
Add life to your content with these writing tips—and you can expect to see increased sales, improved results, and even a promotion or two.
Would you like a free copy of the short story that started my fiction-writing career: “A Nose for Murder”? Just sign up below, and I’ll send you your own copy to enjoy. And from time to time, I’ll keep you posted with musings about writing and updates on my sequels to A Life for a Life and other books.