Use the Right Words and Establish a Connection With Your Reader

Today’s post is by Ali Luke, one of our featured speakers from the WCWW2 – and a dear friend and fellow writer. Enjoy!

How do you create an instant, genuine, connection with someone – when they only have your words?

Whether you’re a writer or not, there’ll be plenty of times when you need to communicate in writing (even if that’s limited to emails). And if you have a blog, website, newsletter or ezine, you’ll want to make readers feel safe and connected.

There are plenty of big-picture ways to create a connection through writing: choosing a topic that the reader will be interested in or concerned about, appealing to emotion, telling a story, and so on.

But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of writing, then you want to make sure that every word you choose helps build up that connection.

Writing Emails

I’m going to treat emails separately as they’re often only addressed to one person.

There’s a very, very easy way to build a connection by email: adapt your style and language to the person you’re corresponding with.

Some people write chatty, friendly emails; others prefer to be concise and get straight to the point. You might naturally tend towards one or the other – but when you’re communicating with someone, consider adapting to suit their style.

Pay attention to the way they structure their emails, too:

  • If they start out with “Hi Bob” then reply with “Hi Sue”.
  • If they don’t use greetings at all, then don’t use them either.
  • If they send a numbered list of action items, use that same list in your reply.
  • If they write long emails broken into subsections, do the same in your reply.
  • If they send you a separate email for every different topic under discussion, reply to each email – don’t send them a single long one in reply.

You’ll also want to look at their vocabulary. Is slang and swearing OK with them? Do they write in quite a corporate style, or do they pepper their messages with “LOL” and smiley faces?

I’m not saying that you should completely change your own voice – but that by making small adjustments, you’ll help your email recipient to feel comfortable with you, and you’ll avoid having to send emails back and forth because something wasn’t clear to them.

Writing Blog Posts, Sales Pages and Newsletters

When you’re writing online, you’re often using your words to market services or products. You might be doing that directly (through a sales page) or indirectly (through content marketing in blog posts and newsletters).

Either way, you want to establish a quick connection with readers who might never have come across you before.

Here’s how, with just two words, you and we:

Use “You” More Often

When you write directly to one reader, you create a conversation. When you use the word “I” far more often than the word “you”, you create a monologue.

I sometimes see bloggers using the plural “you” – writing sentences like:
“Some of you may know…”

Unless you’re explicitly addressing a particular group, and your reader feels themselves to be a firm part of that group (in a small ecourse, for instance), I suggest using the singular “you” instead.

Because:

  • It’s more personal and direct – the plural “you” feels like a public address, not a one-to-one conversation
  • It makes more sense! Sure, your blog might have thousands of readers – but those readers aren’t sitting down as one big group to read your posts. They’re experiencing your words as individuals.

When you’re writing sales pages, it’s often helpful to write as though the reader is already signed up for your service or holding onto your product:

Instead of: “Members will learn how to write great blog posts.”

Try: “You will learn how to write great blog posts.”

Instead of: “I’ll answer everyone’s questions in a weekly Q&A.”

Try: “I’ll answer any questions that you’ve got in a weekly Q&A.”

Use “We” to Create a Sense of Solidarity

I learnt this great tip from Darren Rowse at BlogWorld last year. He talked about using “we” to create community, particularly on his site Digital Photography School, where he makes readers feel involved in site milestones by writing things like “we’ve now reached 600,000 subscribers.”

You might not feel that “we” works for your blog itself, but look out for opportunities to use it in any smaller group contexts – perhaps your newsletter, or a specific post. In my ecourses, I’ll write “in the next lesson, we’ll be tackling…” rather than “in the next lesson, you’ll learn…” (or, worse: “in the next lesson, I’ll teach you…”).

Be Mindful of Your Reader’s Vocabulary

Whether you’re writing emails, blog posts, novels or website copy, you’ll want to think about your reader’s vocabulary and comprehension:

  • Is English going to be their first language?
  • How educated are they?
  • Do you come from the same region – or even the same country – as your readers?

If your natural style involves complex words, consider toning these down, or at least think hard about the context. I used the word “throes” in a recent guest post for Men with Pens – but I wouldn’t use the same word on ProBlogger (which has a much higher percentage of younger readers and readers with English as a second language).

You might have to be careful with ambiguous words: does “few” mean the same thing to every reader as it does to you? (For a great story about “a few sandwiches,” see Chapter 18: Coming to Terms in The Usual Error)

And if you’re writing for a worldwide audience, remember that not all your words will translate well into other forms of English. You might use that as a differentiator (I write in British English on my own blog) – but do be careful that you’re not confusing your readers – or worse, offending them. (Americans: over here in the UK, “fanny” is not an innocent synonym for “butt”…)

What Words Help You Connect?

You’re already using words that are reaching out and engaging your readers – so I’d love to hear some of your best tips in the comments!

Have you used a particular technique, word or phrase in a deliberate attempt to build rapport? How did it work for you?

Ali Luke is one of this year’s World-Changing Writing Workshop speakers. She’s also a writing coach, and blogs about all things writing-related on her site Aliventures. She believes that writers aren’t normal – and that’s a good thing.

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