How to Engage Your Reader—Conversational Writing Tips

It’s casual Friday at the office. And there you are with your two-piece suit and patent pumps (or your black leather Oxfords). Everyone else is in jeans and sneakers. You feel formal and out of place. No one is paying attention to you.

On the web, e-reader, or computer screen every day is casual Friday. To attract and engage your audience, you need to make your writing friendly and informal—like a conversation. You don’t want your writing to sound like the robot from Star Wars.

Conversational writing makes you seem friendly and approachable. It’s easier to read, helps get your message across, and makes you more memorable.

So, do you write how you speak to make it conversational? Yes and no. You do want your words to flow, but you don’t want to bore your reader with too much verbiage and too many pauses.

Write your draft and then edit using these 10 conversational writing tips:

1.    Use contractions

Contractions use an apostrophe to shorten two words, for example Won’t for Will not and I’m for I am. Use contractions to make your writing less formal (or robotic).

Note: It’s is the contraction for it is. Its without the apostrophe is for possessive, as in ‘The robot lost its memory’.

2.    Speak directly to your reader

Use the second person (you) voice to have a conversation with your reader. So instead of addressing your reader in the third person (he, she, they), be direct and use ‘you’.

3.    Avoid inflated words

Focus on using common words and expressions you use in everyday conversation. Would you say to someone ‘You must be cognizant of overhead wires, or your garden looks resplendent?’ (didn’t think so). Instead, write ‘Watch out for overhead wires’ or ‘Your garden looks gorgeous.’

4.    Break some rules

Formal writing follows conventions such as never start a sentence with a conjunction (a joining word like And). But you can break some rules to be more conversational. Start a sentence with Because, But, or And to make your sentences short and easy to read. Use these joining words to carry a thought from one sentence to the next. Use an ellipsis (…) or em dash to create a pause. But don’t go overboard on breaking the rules. The goal is to lighten up your writing not ignore the principles of good writing and grammar.

5.    Eliminate the passive

Passive writing can leave your reader confused. Two clues a sentence is passive:

  • The subject doing the action is unclear.
  • The sentence uses a form of the verb to be (was, has been…).

Consider the following sentence:

The spaceship was damaged.

This sentence is passive—we’re left wondering ‘Who damaged the spaceship?’ (Hint: The spacetrooper did it.)

So, to eliminate the passive, aim for active, and specify the subject of the action.

Tip: You can check your use of passive sentences using Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics.

And if you need more help, try Purdue’s Paramedic Method.

6.     Remove wordiness

Cut words that don’t add any meaning or value. To tighten, try removing these words:

  • Unnecessary adverbs (words ending in -ly)
  • Modifiers like very, really, and generally. To intensify, find a stronger word. Instead of really hard, try complex or tricky.
  • Softeners such as ‘in my opinion’ or ‘as you can see’
  • That—Remove ‘that’ and if the sentence still makes sense, leave it out.
  • Redundant words, for example unexpected surprise (aren’t all surprises unexpected?) or the classic free gift (do you charge for a gift?)
  • Nonessential or vague information, for example instead of ‘When we ate at the restaurant, I ordered a sandwich from the waiter’, try ‘I ordered a Reuben at Kelsey’s.’
  • Vague words like thing, few, and many. What does the thing refer to? Be specific. Instead of few and many, can you be more precise?

7.     End with a preposition

It’s okay to end a sentence a preposition (such as ‘on’, ‘in’, or ‘of’). Notice the placement of the preposition in these two sentences:

Which blog did you publish your article in?

In which blog did you publish your article?

Which sentence sounds more conversational? (Hint: it’s the one that ends with the word ‘in’.)

8.    Ask a question

A question changes the flow of your writing, because the reader has to stop to think about the answer. You can follow the question with an answer. You can also try a series of questions to emphasize a point. Questions keep your reader involved in the conversation.

9.     Vary the pace

Ultra long sentences (25 words or more) are difficult to read. Sentences that are all similar in length produce boredom. To improve readability, break up those extra long sentences. To improve the pace, introduce ultra-short and broken sentences. Aim for variety in your sentence lengths to make your writing interesting.

10. Try a one-word (or one-question) sentence

Ever notice writing that uses a sound effect like *Sigh* or a single word question like ‘Well?’ These single words help vary the pace. And they also add white space, which makes your text easier to read. Try one or two single words to break up your content.

Put your sneakers on

Formal, lackluster writing is a surefire way to alienate a reader.

Overly complex words, convoluted sentences, passive voice, and monotonous pace will lull your audience to sleep. (And that’s assuming they bother to read past the first paragraph.)

Try out these tips.

Take time to edit your words to make your writing conversational.

And see whether your readers take more notice of your words.

Be friendly. Be clear. Be conversational. Ditch the pumps and enjoy casual Friday.

3 Replies to “How to Engage Your Reader—Conversational Writing Tips”

  1. I?d have to check with you here. Which is not something I usually do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

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