I recently had an email exchange with someone who is making the switch from writing feature articles to blogging for his company. He asked me to read his latest blog post before he published it. I was happy to oblige. After I read it, I had some advice about his writing tone.
Me: “I think you are missing an opportunity to engage your readers more by talking directly to them.”
Blogger: “Well, this is important, so how do I do this?”
He’s right, this is very important. Striking the right tone is an essential part of marketing. It can be the difference between reaching your target audience with your blog and reaching no one at all.
As to his second point — how to engage readers with a blog — I can think of several ways.
Different Audience, Different Tone
First, we have to remember that articles differ from blogs in important ways. The audience is not the same, for one, and their expectations are also different. That means the tone has to change too. Whereas a feature article published in a journal or magazine might require a formal tone, a blog post on your own site can more accurately reflect your personality and/or persona.
When I write my blog posts, I write as if I’m having a dialogue with my readers. I’m not just presenting the information in a straightforward, fact-based manner. I’m engaging the reader. It’s networking through the written word rather than in person. You still have to be “on,” but you can also be charming and personal.
Especially when writing in the business-to-consumer arena, bloggers can be chattier, personal, less formal. I like to loosen things up and make my posts more conversational. My articles are often about a third person, a product, or a new development in the industry. My blogs are about you and me.
The Personal Touch
Now the question is, how do you make your writing more personal? I have identified three ways you can build a bridge between you and your readers to achieve that personal tone. Let’s take a look.
1. Choose the Right “Person”
One way to loosen up the tone of your writing is to use first person (“I”) and second person (“you”) rather than the third person (“it” or “they”). This one style choice immediately breaks down the barrier between writer and reader.
Journalists and academics will likely have the hardest time with this one. It is the rare journalist who writes “I” when referring to themselves. Referring to yourself as “the author” in a blog post, however, is not likely to bridge the gap between you and your readers.
2. Interact with Your Readers
Another way to break down barriers is to ask questions. You can use rhetorical questions, as I did to start this section (“how do you make your writing more personal?”), or you can ask questions that prompt an action. For example:
Have you ever experienced this? Leave your answer in the comments!
Both types of questions should get your readers thinking about how the information you have presented relates to them. You want your readers to see themselves in your descriptions. That is how you connect with your readers. And that connection is key to the success of your blog.
Here is an example from just the other day. A new client told me she read the introduction to Perfect Bound and thought, “That’s me!”
What a compliment! That is the exact reaction I was hoping for. I want the same thing from my blog posts.
3. Flout the Rules of Grammar
Conversational writing often goes against grammar rules, just as two people talking might do. An article for an industry magazine or organization newsletter may need to adhere to strict grammar rules, but your blog post doesn’t. You might even say it shouldn’t.
To be sure, I don’t condone sloppy writing or not editing your writing. Any time you break a grammar rule, it should be done with intention. (All of your writing choices should be done with intention!)
However, some rules you should feel comfortable breaking. What’s more, some “rules” you might be following are not actually rules at all.
If you’re unsure which rules it is okay to break, I hereby give you permission to:
- Begin a sentence with a conjunction. Just don’t start a new section with one.
Example: And that is when I noticed the stranger in the building.
- Use contractions. This is a quick way to relax the tone of your writing.
Example: He said he wasn’t trespassing.
- Split infinitives. An infinitive is the “to” form of a verb. Splitting them has been acceptable for a long time.
Example: I asked him to immediately leave the building.
- Split auxiliary verbs and main verbs. Sometimes it only makes sense to put the adjective or adverb in between the two parts of a compound verb.
Example: He was quickly and quietly escorted to his car.
- Use the singular they when referring to a generic person. “He or she” has largely been supplanted by “they.” This is not the same as they for nonbinary people, which should also be used but is not a question of grammar.
Example: Everyone in the building had to give their IDs to the police.
- Use sentence fragments for effect. Note I said “for effect.” A random incomplete thought will leave your readers confused.
Example: It was a long night. A very long night.
Formatting for the Online Medium
The tone of your writing is affected by more than grammar. Formatting choices can also evoke a more casual vs. formal feel. The following formatting standards have come about as an accommodation for how people read online:
- Use short paragraphs (2 to 3 sentences)
- Include multiple heads throughout
- Set key sentences boldface
- Use bullets or numbers to set off lists
These four style choices are friends to the online reader. They help readers navigate the blog post to find the most relevant information. For the many people who read on their phones, a paragraph of even five sentences might be too long. What do you think?
As I told my blogger friend, blog posts are your chance to engage with your readers in a personal way. Often, this is what your readers expect. How do you do that? By breaking down the barriers between you and your readers with lax grammar, conscious formatting choices, and directly addressing your readers.
What other writing techniques have you noticed in blogs that aren’t often seen in a feature article? Have you ever applied them to your own writing? What was the result?
Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!