Write like a human.
“Please don’t write to me about solutions any more — they have become a problem.”
— Rob Calem, editor of The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition
In order to boost engagement with your content and minimise the risk of suboptimal performance in terms of dwell time and audience response, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the tone of writing is in keeping with everyday conversational style, as opposed to formal or overly corporate.
Have I lost you yet? Wouldn’t be surprised. Translated into human, this monstrosity means ‘Write the way you talk, or no one will read it.’
Look at that sentence again. Ugh or what? It’s drier than a hungover jerboa’s mouth. It overflows with unnecessary big words. And it’s boring AF. People find this kind of copy hard to read — so, in most cases, they just don’t bother.
And yet this crap is everywhere.
“XYZ is the performance marketing agency of choice for challenger brands, delivering cutting-edge expertise for a truly successful digital journey.”
“The explosive growth in the volume and complexity of unstructured data sets in fragmented sources calls for action.”
“We leverage our knowledge and relationships to help clients articulate and share their news and perspectives, underscoring their unique value propositions, and building awareness and credibility.”
All real examples that only took minutes to find.
No one in their right mind would talk like that in real life, but somehow they think it’s the right way to speak to you in writing. It’s as if there’s a little voice in their head going ‘Come on, you’ve got to sound PROFESSIONAL!’ But just because you’re writing for a business, that’s no reason to go into robot / corporate drone mode. Business-to-business is still human-to-human. So let’s write like humans. It’s not just more fun and less soul-destroying, it’s officially good for business.
Neil Patel ran an A/B test on two versions of the same blog post — one written in a formal tone, and the other written conversationally. 247% more readers finished the article written in a conversational tone. People spent an average of 4:45 minutes reading that version, compared to just 1:22 minutes on the formal one.
Try making your writing as close as possible to a one-on-one conversation with someone in your audience. In fact, try writing as if you’re speaking to a real person you know and like.
Once you’re done, read it out loud. Could you imagine yourself saying it to someone’s face? If the answer is ‘no’, because saying it in real life would be pretentious, unnatural or too formal, find a more human way of saying it.
Here are some practical tips to help you get there.
Avoid using passive voice: ‘We made a mistake’ is much better than ‘A mistake was made.’
Avoid corporatese, buzzwords, and jargon.
Ditch complex words: ‘use’ is better than ‘utilise’, ‘around’ is better than ‘approximately’.
Try to avoid abbreviations and acronyms, unless everyone knows WTF they mean.
Bring blown-up language down to Earth.
Chop up long sentences.
Don’t be scared of showing emotions.
Use contractions: ‘can’t’ instead of ‘cannot’, ‘doesn’t’ instead of ‘does not’.
Ask a question: it feels more like a dialogue.
Break some grammar rules. Start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’. What the hell, start with ‘Ugh’ and end it at that.
And in case you’re still worried that speaking human will make you sound less professional, just watch one of Steve Jobs’s classic presentations.
In the wild.
Practice time! Your task is to humanise a few atrocities.
You can publish your rewrites here (anonymously or not — that’s up to you) and see what others have done with the same copy.
As part of our value-added offering, we can help our clients’ businesses prosper by introducing them to our extensive network of valuable contacts. becomes…
We will do everything we can to help you and your business do well. For instance, by introducing you to our brilliant network.
Now here are 3 for you. Go wild.
And no, you don’t have to do all of them.
1. Email response template for dissatisfied customers of a cosmetic product, courtesy of Schwarzkopf’s customer service: Please be assured that all our products are extensively tested to ensure that they are suitable for the purpose for which they have been designed. Therefore, we can only conclude that the product simply does not suit your requirements. Success with any product can be a personal feeling and as such, a case of trial and error. Not every product will suit every person and where some find satisfaction ultimately others may feel disappointment. We can only suggest shopping around and trying alternative products, to find one which suits your needs.
2. A note inside the bathroom of an upscale restaurant:
POLITE NOTICE TO CUSTOMERS
Please note that due to the age of the plumbing system in these premises, our lavatories are unable to cope with paper towels, sanitary products and other objects being disposed of in toilets. We would like to ask you to retain from flushing any such items, in order to avoid the pipes getting clogged up and causing the lavatories to be out of service. Please use bins provided instead.
3. Website copy for an accounting firm:
Using our skill and expertise we are able to build long-lasting relationships with our clients. We perform our job with utmost care for quality and transparency. Furthermore, what we value the most is trust, as it is the basis for every effective cooperation.
BONUS! A particularly inhuman CTA (call to action) on a tech website for businesses, courtesy of Microsoft:
Modernize your security posture to enable a more secure digital transformation.
Dare to share.
Feel free to post your transformative solutions less crappy versions in the comments section below — anonymously, if you want.
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P.P.P.S. Your feedback is my only hope of making this newsletter better. What worked well? What didn’t? Was there too much practice, or too little? I’m all ears.
Thank you for reading — and writing.
Until next week!