Is your content ‘talking’ to your audience? Would more persuasive writing increase your content’s ROI?
The whole point of marketing is to start a one-on-one conversation between two people. Ultimately a conversation between your sales person and their CFO.
Your product is complex and technical. That’s fine. But if your content is hard to understand the conversation may never get started. You need to simplify the language in your content to make your complex, technical product understandable.
In this post, we look at five steps you more persuasive writing. First let’s look at how readability is assessed by most word processing software.
Readability: Flesch Kincaid (FK) Explained
The Flesch Kincaid readability assessment was developed to assess the difficulty of reading materials for upper elementary through secondary grades. Although the FK test was developed to assess reading material for students, the FK score is basically about the readability of the text. A scale based on a formula.
The FK score is assessed on these factors in a piece of writing:
- # of letters per word: more letters, more difficult to read.
- # of words per sentence: more words, more difficult to read.
- # of sentences per paragraph: more sentences, more difficult to read.
- % passive sentences: more passive sentences, more difficult to read.
Most word processing software reviews documents and reports on two FK parameters:
- Flesch reading ease, and
- FK grade level score.
The Flesch reading ease assessment is reported as a percent and the higher the score the better. On the other hand, for persuasive content, an FK grade level score of 8 or less is best.
Although the FK score can help you improve the clarity of your writing, it does have drawbacks. For instance, in writing water industry content, you will need to use some jargon and technical terms. Just be aware that your FK score may creep up if you rely too much on these less familiar and less used terms.
Remember too, that while bad readability scores often reflect poor writing, good readability scores do not by themselves mean the writing is good.
Now on to the five steps that will start you on your road to more persuasive writing.
Step #1: Find one emotionally compelling idea
The most powerful aid to more persuasive writing is to identify one emotionally compelling idea. One that engages the reader both emotionally and rationally. When you try to write about many things your message becomes diluted.
It doesn’t have to be factual. But it does need to feel like it is or should be true. It must be so emotionally attractive the reader will want to believe it.
An emotionally compelling idea should generate a feeling of discovering something new and useful. Something new to think about and share.
How to find that emotionally compelling idea.
There is no substitute for research. You need to know the topic – your product or service – and its features and benefits. You need to know your audience and their needs.
It always helps to start with a brainstorming session. Whether alone or with your team, think about all the features and benefits of your product or service. If an emotionally compelling idea doesn’t jump off the page, which it most likely won’t, more research is required.
Keyword research identifies topics that people are searching for. Keep and maintain a list of keywords and keyword phrases. Find out what your audience is interested in, what they want to learn about.
After further research into features and benefits and your audience’s needs, you then repeat the brainstorming activity. Itemize the benefits and turn each into one emotionally compelling idea.
Put that emotionally compelling idea right up front
Studies have shown that people like to know what they’re in for right from the start. Put your emotionally compelling idea right up front. In primary school, they taught us that when writing a report, you should:
Tell them what you are going to tell them,
then tell them what you told them.
It still applies today. Put the emotionally compelling idea up front and draw your audience through to the call-to-action. You can help your reader by:
- Stating the subject of an email in the subject line.
- Including an executive summary with a white paper.
- Stating the basic facts about a news item in the first sentence or two of a news release.
- Providing an introduction, regardless of the length of your document.
Step #2: Use an easy-to-read style
More persuasive writing uses an easy-to-read style. Your reader can then focus on your message rather than muddling through dense text. These three tricks will help you develop that easy-to-read style.
Trick #1: Use personal pronouns
Using personal pronouns gives your writing a conversational tone. Personal pronouns seem to connect the reader to the writer. A conversational tone helps your reader focus on your message rather than your language.
Just be sure that personal pronouns are right for the content. It may not be appropriate in every situation.
Trick #2: Avoid jargon
It’s easy to be drawn to words that are common in your industry. But are they common to your audience? When writing for non-specialists and you have a choice between words, use the common, everyday word.
A couple further pointers on word choice:
- Use positive words. Negatives like don’t in front of a verb can make some readers stumble.
- Avoid long strings of nouns. Sentences with several nouns in a row can be difficult to navigate.
- Use inclusive language. Unless your document is about men, don’t use only male pronouns (he, his).
Sometimes you may have to use a technical term, even when you’re writing for non-specialists. In that case, choose words that will help your readers.
Trick #3: Avoid padding with words like very, really, actually, or carefully
These words don’t serve any purpose. Keep in simple, keep it easy to understand.
Step #3: Keep it concise and to the point
When writing about complex technical subjects, you need to construct your sentences carefully. More persuasive writing uses direct, simple sentences. In fact, long sentences almost always have complex grammatical structures. This puts a strain on the reader’s immediate memory. The reader has to retain several parts of each sentence before he can combine them into a meaningful whole.
Here are a few tricks to help you keep concise and to the point:
Trick #1: Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
The average length of your sentences should be 20 words or fewer.
Trick #2: Sentences should focus on one idea
Keep it simple. Cover only one idea per sentence and one theme per paragraph. Get to the point; don’t wander around first. Find one emotionally compelling idea, as we discussed in the earlier in this post.
Trick #3: Use the active voice
Use the active voice. The passive voice tends to seem evasive:
The standards were breached.
Who breached the standards? As a reader, you might think: Is the writer trying to hide something from me? If you don’t want to appear to be hiding something, you should use an active voice:
The refinery breached a water quality standard.
You can make your document more persuasive by providing cues that promote skimming. There are a couple tricks you can use to help these readers out.
Trick #1: Use headings
Headings show your readers how your document is organized. And they let your reader skim the text to find the information they’re looking for. Readers on the Internet tend to move on to something else if they don’t find what they’re looking for quickly. In longer documents, add a table of contents at the beginning, too.
There are several ways to write a heading. You can state it as a question, as a phrase, or as a declarative sentence:
- Question. “Are there two kinds of people in the world?”
- Phrase. “Two kinds of people in the world”
- Declarative sentence. “There are two kinds of people in the world.”
Trick #2: Break up blocks of text with bulleted/numbered lists
Lists are easy for readers to skim. Choose numbers when presenting a list with items in a specific sequence or rank order. Use bullets when the items listed are equivalent in importance.
These tricks improve readability because:
- They make it easier for readers to find what they want.
- They make your content less intimidating by breaking it up visually.
Step #5: Structure it to soothe the reader’s eye
Long blocks of text can intimidate readers. Persuasive writing is easy to read in a visual sense, making it easier for the reader to understand your key message.
You can soothe the reader’s eye by using white space. Use adequate margins and space between sections. Keep paragraphs short. The lists help break up text and provide relief to the eye as well as enhancing its skim-ability.
Visual tools can help explain your content.
- Infographics provide a clear visual representation of data, relationships, or ideas.
- Tables can help comparisons and show relationships without using a lot of text.
- Lists group similar items. Numbered lists are ideal for items that are sequenced or ranked; other lists may be bulleted.
- Other visual tools include inserts, charts, maps, and checklists.
Make sure the tool you use matches your content and the needs of your audience. You can’t explain everything with a pie chart!
In this post we see how plain language improves understanding. Understanding leads to trust, and ultimately to action from your prospect. Action that can lead to a one-on-one conversation between two people.
Your product is complex and technical. Simplify the language in your content to make your complex, technical product more easily understood. Take these five steps to more persuasive writing:
- Find one compelling idea
- Use an easy-to-read style
- Keep it concise and to the point
- Make it skim-able
- Structure it to soothe the reader’s eye