By Alessandra Calderin
From emails to Facebook, newsletters to Twitter to texts, the quality of our writing often determines that first impression across the digital landscape. In a content saturated world, it’s a battle just to increase our odds of getting noticed, understood, and actually read. When our content is up against an endless supply of words and images behind glowing screens, we need to make sure we not only capture attention, but keep it. (Oh my god, it’s like we’ve manifested our childhood need for attention into a professional way of life.)
From general writing advice to medium specific necessities, we’ve got you covered, dear reader. We’re going to take you through how to sharpen your language, adapt tone for different mediums, and perhaps most importantly, capture attention with direct brevity (and a little humor).
WRITE BETTER EMAILS
Not only are emails the default form of professional communication, emails are your paper trail. Especially in the workplace, you want to make sure any verbal agreements are translated to paper — and that you’re writing as if anyone might read your words.
You also want to make sure those emails actually get read. While email attention spans have grown, here are some ways to get better results whenever you click send.
Be direct / Be brief
I used to wonder why no one knew the information that was clearly stated in emails I sent. Spoiler alert: it’s because no one read them. If the first few sentences don’t highlight what’s important — and you don’t keep pertinent info in separate lines or at the top of the paragraph — they’ll barely get glanced at.
Make sure you have short paragraphs and lead with the most important information. If you can cut a paragraph down to 2 sentences, people will love you. Or rather, if you say in 2 paragraphs what could’ve been communicated in 2 sentences, people will hate you.
This all goes double for the subject line. What. Are. You. Emailing. About?
BCC is your friend. Reply all is your enemy.
Okay, so this isn’t specifically about the actual writing, but if there were commandments for sending emails, these would be the first two. The other 30 people on that office-wide email chain don’t need to be abreast of every “okay” and “thanks.” Spare them, and yourself, some grief by paying attention who is in what line of the To/ CC/ BCC trifecta.
WRITE BETTER NEWSLETTERS
This is your most direct and intimate lifeline to your audience. When you saddle into their inbox, you’ll be competing against dozens if not hundreds of other emails clamoring for their attention.
Every blast should provide purpose, and if appropriate, a little entertainment. Studies show most people read emails between 9 and 11AM on weekdays, so ideally you’re sending that blast between 7 and 10AM (but make sure to check that against your own analytics).
Grab attention with the subject and preview
Let your readers know what they’ll get out of your email. What’s the value add? New projects? Discount codes? New products? Why should I care? If it’s time-sensitive, make that clear. Words like “breaking” and “urgent” get clicks. Just make sure you use those bait-y words with purpose.
Important information goes “above the fold.” Why should someone spend their precious inbox moments reading what you have to say? What problem are you solving? Expand on the key words in your subject line with the preview text. For more in-depth tips, check this out.
Sound friendly, but not overly familiar
Ahh, the fine line of tone. To take me for example, this vibe is fairly casual. It’s a long form blog where I have the space to form intimacy. I don’t assume to know too much about you, but I give you enough personality so that you might feel like you’re getting to know me. People and brands that have distinct voices always stand. Find yours and use it.
Master the image to text ratio
If you look at a heat map of where people’s eyeballs go when they read an email, you’ll see attention goes to headlines, images, the first two words of a paragraph … and then they trail off.
To keep engagement, break up the text and include plenty of images. Whether it’s a pop culture reference, charts and graphs, or a promo flyer, save those eyeballs from a text wasteland.
WRITE BETTER SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS
Social media has become everyone’s public persona. How do you present yourself, your brand, your company? Know thy audience, know thy medium, know thyself.
Write for the medium
Instagram better have great visuals with a clever caption. Good lighting, clear images, or some sort of infographic will go far. The words are just there to support that. A lot of people won’t even read them. On Twitter you better make those characters count. One sentence is ideal unless you’re clever.
Facebook can handle a combination of links, text, and photos. LinkedIn is, of course reserved, for professional accomplishments, events, and articles. Just like with newsletters, your personal analytics matter more than the general rule of thumb so check in with that.
Give it purpose
Whatever you’re using, make sure there’s a value-add and a purpose. Now, that purpose can be a joke, but you better make your audience laugh in a non-cringe kind of way. Add a call to action to make it really count.
Keep it casual 🙆🏻♀️
Especially for Twitter and Instagram, you can bend the grammar rules and play with hashtags and emojis. Adding a meta awareness to your posts can score you big points with younger audiences.
WRITE BETTER, PERIOD
Write like a human person
When you get hyper formal, overly “rah-rah,” or a little too fake, it’s obvious and off-putting. Sound like yourself, or at least sound like a human. Gauge the level of formality needed for the situation and don’t go beyond that. Unless you’re working in an industry with antiquated formal standards of practice, tis better to err on the side of casual.
- You will sound more likable.
- You will sound smarter.
You know who writes in a casual tone? People who don’t have anything to prove. If you actually know what you’re talking about, it’ll come off as confidence.
Of course, there’s a fine line. Going too casual with an abundance of emojis, exclamation points, colloquialisms, and misspellings will have the opposite effect.
Cut unnecessary prepositions
As a matter of fact, cut out all unnecessary words. Unless you’re combing for the perfect metaphors to describe the sunset …
For example, instead of
“I’m writing to inform you of a new propositions that may alleviate workflow issues you may be experiencing in your business.”
You can sharpen that to
“I’ve developed a new proposition aimed at solving your business problems.”
Find the “of”s, the passive language, the qualifiers, and get rid of them.
Use action verbs where possible
Chuck Palahniuk has an extremely frustrating, but insanely effective technique for creating dynamic prose. Go through whatever you write. Cross out the “thought” verbs (thinks, knows, understands, realizes, etc). Replace them with unpacked action verbs. He also insists including “is” and “has” verbs as well as “loves” and “hates.”
While this advice was written for novelists and storytellers and certainly qualifies as overkill for most online media, there are a few really useful ideas behind it that will benefit anyone.
First, it forces active language. For daily writing it won’t make sense to replace every “thought” and “to be” verb, but if you can replace a handful for every page of writing, you will arrive at your point faster and hold attention longer.
Second, it asks us to figure out what it is we’re actually trying to say without short cuts. I love this — especially when working with buzz words. Instead of “authenticity,” “manifest,” “abundance,” “optimize,” “organic,” what are you actually trying to communicate? Are those the best words? Sometimes they are, but often they’re BS.
You can even take this advice to a resume. The first line of every bullet point should have an engaging action verb like “wrote,” “designed,” “produced,” “implemented,” not something like “helped” or “was the point person for.” Specifics are everything.
Write now. Edit later. Always revise.
Get the words down. Now. Don’t get stuck on the perfect phrases. Practice spitting them out. Then go back. Edit. Revise. Hone. Reread. THEN submit. After all…
About the author.
Alessandra is the mentor, educator, and writer behind Boneseed, a private practice devoted to deep self-inquiry through a range of physical, energetic, and mental modalities. She has over 500 hours of yoga, mentorship, and facilitation training and can be found slinging knowledge on her website, newsletter, and @bone.seed.