Have you ever read an article, reached the end, and thought to yourself, “Wow, I can really relate to that”? Chances are, it was not just the content of the article that drew you in, but also the tone. Good web writing has what is commonly referred to as a conversational tone. When you read it (either in your mind or out loud), it sounds as if someone were speaking to you, and you can almost imagine yourself responding with your own thoughts or input.
So how do you go about establishing the ever-sought-after conversational tone in your articles? Here are a few tips to make those words flow smoothly.
Shorten up those sentences.
When you’re speaking, your sentences tend to be on the shorter side. Thank needing to breathe for that. Focusing on using mostly shorter sentences in your writing will make your articles sound more similar to natural speech. This doesn’t mean every sentence you write has to be 10 words or shorter — there are no hard rules. But do try to avoid long, meandering sentences connected by multiple commas and semicolons. If you can separate a sentence into two or three shorter sentences without it sounding choppy, it’s generally best to do so.
Ask your reader questions.
One of the reasons a conversational tone is important is that it gets your readers engaging with the material and thinking to themselves. Can you think of a better way to do this than by interjecting questions in the text? Don’t go overboard with this strategy. A question every couple of paragraphs is enough.
Make sure the questions you ask are ones that really benefit your reader to think about. For instance, the question, “Are you ready to learn more?” is less thought-provoking than “When was the last time you had a truly amazing home-cooked meal?”. The first question is essentially filler and adds little value to the text, while the second one gets the reader excited to keep reading.
Say “yes” to contractions.
When you speak, you use a lot of contractions. When trying to establish a conversational tone, do the same. The sentence, “Do not force the cap open if it does not turn easily” sounds like text out of a repair manual, whereas the sentence, “Don’t force the cap open if it doesn’t turn easily” sounds like friendly advice from a neighbor.
Don’t be afraid to start a sentence with a conjunction.
You might picture your high school English teacher shaking her finger at you the first few times you do it. But once you get used to starting sentences with conjunctions, you’ll realize how much more natural it makes your writing sound. Once again, don’t go overboard with this. When every sentence in a paragraph starts with “and” or “but,” the writing sounds forced and overly informal. Try to use this strategy mainly when connecting the two sentences with a proper comma and conjunction would result in a wordy, complex sentence.
Use examples to illustrate confusing concepts.
Using examples to explain confusing concepts makes the reader feel like you can sense their confusion and are helping them out. This really makes them feel more engaged with the material and like you’re conversing with them.
Keep in mind that examples don’t have to be long. Sometimes, just a couple of examples interjected in the middle of the sentence can make its meaning clearer. For instance, the sentence, “Non-violent crimes, like embezzlement and tax fraud, are usually punishable by fine or a short jail sentence” makes it fairly obvious which type of crimes you’re talking about. Without the examples of embezzlement and tax fraud thrown in there, the reader may not know what’s meant by non-violent crimes.
When in doubt, read it aloud.
If you’re not sure whether a piece you write sounds conversational enough, read it aloud. It should sound natural coming out of your mouth. If you sound like a stuffy professor reading from an academic journal, employ the strategies above.
Two articles can contain the exact same information, but the one written conversationally will be more useful because it engages readers. It might not be what your English teacher would call “proper,” but conversational English is the way of the web.