Grammarian’s Cringe… But Oh… Will You Get Read

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact, I am who I am, and that is just the way it is. What you get here is the same version you’ll get over the phone, over coffee, or in a business meeting.

To tell you the truth? It’s too much work to be anyone other than me.

I’ve got a confession though.

When I started writing, that wasn’t the case at all.

I turned into some Shakespearian writing hack, only with about 50,000 less words than old Willie sported in his vocabulary.

Gee, I hope that didn’t bother you I called William Shakespeare, Willie.

See, that’s what I mean. If he were here at my desk, and I was writing about him? I’d still call him Willie, or Will, or maybe even Bill.

I mean no disrespect at all. If he found it offensive? I’d call him what he wanted, of course.

Even though I’m easy-going and lay back, when I began writing I was either too rigid or swung the opposite and became this flowery conversationalist.

Decades ago, I copped a major offense at my creative writing instructor who said I was writing too flowery. I tried to change my style during the writing course, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get it in my head.

You know what I did?

I asked myself, “Why am I beating myself over the head with this stuff? Why don’t I just write like I talk? Why try to be someone I’m not?”

Little did I know it back then, that’s what the market would look for in writers years down the road.

Here’s the deal. If you’re going to write about a new headset for instance, what sounds better…?

“The XL5 Super Boom headset sports a rigid body for durable use. The 2.5 cm built-in woofer perfectly balances the high treble for a pleasurable listening experience anywhere.” We’ve coated the earpieces with a special moisture resistant polymer to prevent premature unit breakdown.”


“Whether you’re jamming in the park while jogging, rocking out in the library studying, or drowning out your mom’s oldies while in the car; the bass will sound like it’s rattling the fenders off and highs that put you on stage with the band. The XL5 Super Boom won’t break if you drop them either. We’ve tossed them on concrete from 25-feet over 100 times and they still rock! Sweat on them all you want while working out, we’ve moisture proofed the grills and speakers, so you’re good to go.”

Bottom-line? Write more like you speak than you would if submitting your college thesis. Because, it isn’t your English prof you’re writing for, it’s your buying customer.

Then, be prepared to offend the grammarians in your life.

Proper grammar is best practice, but we do talk in sentence fragments, start our conversation with “but, or “and, and use slang you won’t find in the dictionary.

Of course, there are certain writing environments which lend themselves to lean either way, and I’m being pretty casual here. The point is, people respond more to a casual tone than one they feel they are being talked down to, or swimming in technical or corporate speak.

I’ve seen comparisons time over, including my own experiences where conversational tones beat out tech talk.

Years ago, I wrote an e-mail campaign for an organization. One of the board members thought it too casual. This person tossed down the white glove, re-wrote it, and submitted it to the board for review.

Guess which one the board wanted?

My campaign is still used to this day.

The board member who re-wrote my piece is articulate, educated, and has an art background… A very capable person.

But, for the project we were working on, to get the best results it called for a fun, casual tone.

Here’s a tip to help overcome this Shakespearian phenomena when sitting down to write.

Imagine you are sitting across from your mom or a friend. Then, just relax, and write like you’d talk to them. Imagine them listening to you, nodding their head, getting every word.

You might even imagine them asking questions about the topic. If you get one? Mark them down. Those questions might well be your customer’s questions. If so, you’ll need to answer them in your content.

When you’re done, go back to fix up glaring grammar errors, take out as many instances of “that” or words ending in “ly,” and other similar unproductive boo-boos.

Try this technique on your next content piece. Taylor it to your industry and the level of your readers, but stay under the eighth-grade reading level. If you can get to the fifth-grade, even better.

It’s not about dumbing down or writing unintelligently.

It’s all about being understood and identifying with your customer or client.

Hey, even those fancy suits gather at the coffee pot or water cooler and talk in a casual tone about their lives or company events.

You’ll dramatically improve your readership if you write conversationally. Of course, there is a lot more to content writing than tone, but this is a foundational element which… sets the tone… pardon the pun.

Until next time…

Live like you’ll never get hurt, dream like nobody is watching and above all… try-try-try until you succeed!

About Brad Dunse'

Freelance writer, entrepreneur, and life student of personal development with a passion for writing, learning, and helping others... a winning combination to live the writer's life! Looking for e-mail campaigns, web content, case studies, or more?
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5 Responses to Grammarian’s Cringe… But Oh… Will You Get Read

  1. Linda says:

    I love this, and how ironic that I should have just read this now, as I belong to a book discussion list, where we discuss mysteries and everything that relates to them. We have both authors and readers from all over the world, and ever so often, the fact that american publishers seem to feel that in spite of the internet, as well as british programs available in north America, feel that not only must they change titles, but certain britishisms so that Americans can understand the books. This is especially maddening if you buy a book, only to discover you’ve read it in an alternate title, and is a horrible resource waster in our type of library system, especially if the book is a talking book
    All these publishers would have to do is put a glossary of terms in the front of the book to explain for example that the boot of the car is the trunk, the bonnet is the hood, a baby’s push chair a stroller, etc.
    As for writing the way you talk, having speech on your computer must be a boon to writers, as you can hear what you sound like. I could go on forever, until this became a book itself, but I agree with you wholeheartedly, and will add that people who write mannuals, are just about the only group who need to dumb down their work. Lol!

  2. Beth says:

    I beg to differ. Professional materials should be presented professionally, not as between friends, not with slang or poor grammar, not trying to speak using today’s jargon and poor and inappropriate vocabulary. Current and potential customers should be given the respect of a polished, carefully-written presentation. I am writing using this method regarding this post. What if I had said this?

    Hey, dude, no way, you should write as if you are a pro, not just someone off the street, using all that poor grammar, vocab and stuff.

    Now, I ask you, which style is more appealing? Beth

  3. Brad says:

    Linda and Beth, I think my reply below can address both of your concerns when it comes to the point I was making.

    The point to remember, we’re coming at this as entrepreneurs, as business people trying to reach our clients or customers, right?

    That is the blog forum we’re in here.

    I know nothing about writing a novel. I’ve read many, so from that perspective I know some, yes, but not the intricacies and detail.

    I sure can understand the frustration of buying a book and finding out you already read it and someone felt they needed to change the title or dumb it down for a particular audience. Actually, that is kind of insulting when you think of it. I’m with you there!

    From a business standpoint, I suppose they felt that was an innovative way to reimagine their work. It’s not a successful plan if it is going to hack off your readership though, is it?

    If one wanted to write a British book with that cultural setting? Then American readers best learn what a boot, torch, trolley, or tea really mean. Isn’t that part of the British experience in a cultural read?

    If one was writing about an LA gang, a writer wouldn’t say, “Okay, I’m going back to my place to relax.”

    I’d imagine they’d say something like, “Bro, “I’m chillin’ at the crib.”

    Again, if someone wants to read a British or LA gang book, they’ve made that choice ahead of time and expect the tone to reflect it.

    And… that segues right into our respect concern. No, absolutely, we don’t want to disrespect a reader.

    Wouldn’t it be just as disrespectful though to write an over professional sounding piece to a young casual audience?

    As I noted, who you are writing to dictates how casual or technical the tone is styled.

    The headset ad sample I used was obviously for a younger crowd. There aren’t too many older folks riding around with their mom or booming bass rattling fenders off the car.

    At the end of the day, one writes in a way that works, and I’m sorry if the more casual approach is offensive to some. The internet and digital devices have a lot to do with that.

    The digital age has shown the marketing industry, more than ever before, that people respond to a conversational tone more than corporate speak or over professional tone. The fact is we speak much differently than we write in proper grammar. Well, I should say, the average person does. It might be different at a Harvard mixer.

    The whole idea might seem wrong, but if one wants to sell a product, you write what is effective. Unfortunately, that sometimes offends the English grammarians and some elements of English writing rules.

    There is a whole philosophical debate out there on the trashing of English due to blogs and digital writing, which I’m not going to get into here.

    And, I’m not saying to toss English books in the trash either.

    I’m not saying it is right, but I am saying it works. So one can either write proper with fewer results, or more like people talk at the water cooler and experience more sales.

    That is just what the buying public has dictated to us.

    No, we aren’t going to write a, “Yo dude, check out this new investment, its flamin’ awesome!”

    But who knows, one day it might come to that. It depends on who is buying investments most.

    But then we aren’t going to write…

    “Last year’s investments rendered, on average a mere 3.1% return. We at Acme Investment feel we can stop the outpouring of funds, and improve on that return for you.”

    We’d write something like…

    “Tired of your returns only getting 3.1%? Each second that goes by without changing your investment strategy means you’re feeling someone else’s hand in your pocket.

    Acme Investment has the winning strategy to cut-off the pickpockets in your life, and get you back to funding the lifestyle you’ve enjoyed and worked so hard for all your life.”

    Again, these are generalizations. I can sum up the goal of market writing in one word…


    Emotions sells, casual, but yes respective tone, is what sells. Plain and simple.

    I’m not inventing anything new here.

    Check out books like Content Rules or look at some of American Writer’s and Artist Inc. material.

    There are lots of marketing resources which touch on this topic.

    It’s all about getting your audience, no matter who it is, to identify with you, to touch an emotion in a positive way, so they trust you and see what you have to offer as the solution to their problem.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Scott says:

    I just have a little comment here for you all. Do any of you remember a program called talking checkbook? Well if you ever read his manual for that program, you would be in hysterics like I was. It was that way through the whole manual, and I understood it too. However I do enjoy a good tech manual too but if it has humor, it is all that much more better. Yes, I said more better. lol… That is my comment for the day.

  5. Brad says:

    I’m not familiar with the software or manual. It sure sounds like it was written in a casual tone which caused you to remember it.

    Granted, you are talking about an owner’s manual where the purchase is already history, but humor in sales copy doesn’t work all that much. Certain markets and media provide for it, but written copy, not so much.

    I think people are just too busy to read the amount of copy one needs to work it. Plus, other media sources involving other human senses can pull it off so much better.

    Thanks for your thoughts Scott.

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