This is a guest post by Brian Lash.
When was the last time you curled up with a good book of college essays? Ever perused a great sales letter written in the style of an academic paper?
The college (read: deliberately formal) style has its place in the ivy-coated corners of the world. But it doesn’t belong in our new media blogs, podcasts, and videos. Because it isn’t conversational. It doesn’t match the medium. And it just doesn’t jive with expectations.
Still, most of us find it hard to break the habits of formal writing for two reasons:
- It’s taught: Students spend years writing the way schooling teaches
- It’s rewarded: Educators expect and reward the formal style, and “what gets rewarded gets repeated”
And that’s okay… until you discover yourself succumbing to “formal creep,” or the tendency to write in that familiar, formal style, when an informal tone is more suitable.
The following 5 techniques will help you break that habit and set you on the course to better new media writing:
Read for 5 minutes before you write
I like Seth Godin’s simple, unassuming and effective style, so I read his blog just before I write for my own. Try it with Copyblogger: A quick pass will help you recalibrate your mind toward clear, conversational prose, and away from the formality of those books, magazines, and online newspapers we read throughout the day.
It’s a powerful method that’s guaranteed to work for you two out of three times. For the one time it doesn’t, try these:
Start with a single line
Take a chance with a line by swapping it for one that’s less formal. Then let its style cascade through the rest of your work. And don’t worry about overdoing it – that’s why we revise and edit.
You did it in grade school to “hear” your mistakes. Read your work aloud today to hear your conversation.
Your new media writing should sound like your everyday speech, albeit a more precise, polished version.
Apply the “impress test”
When you find yourself impressed by your use of a sesquipedalian (ahem, a big word), change it. The same can be said for complete sentences – you should seize any opportunity to simplify your message without compromising its meaning. You’ll find the resulting structure more palatable for the everyday reader, which is critical when you’re writing to be read.
Find someone who will keep you honest
Each one of us slips up. Finding someone who will tell you when you do is the quickest way to keep yourself in the habit of writing conversationally. And it’s as simple as encouraging a friend or colleague to include your feed in his or her reader.
Put these five techniques to the test the next time you want to write for greater impact, relevance, and reach. And when it comes to new media, check the college style at the door.
Brian Lash is Creative Director at First Blog Media and editor of The New Media Monthly.