Writing Tip: Talk on paper
By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel
Now that you’ve taken my advice to add punch to your writing by turning commas into periods, you may be wondering what to do with all those leftover commas.
Turn them into apostrophes and put them into contractions. They’ll make your writing more conversational.
Many of us write more formally than we speak. We learned that in school. Quit it. Use your writing to talk on paper.
Almost everyone I know, including me, uses contractions when we talk. But a lot of people avoid them entirely when they write. Why? Because we learned in school that nice people don’t write that way. Yes, they do. Your teachers lied to you.
They probably didn’t mean to lie. Most of them probably were nice people. And they probably used contractions when they talked — just like you and me. Well, me for sure. I’m guessing about you.
But those teachers who told you to be more formal in your writing learned to do that when they were in school. And it’s what the textbook they were using said to do when it was time for them to teach you. Who’s going to argue with that? Me, for one.
Making your writing more conversational — talking on paper — makes your writing friendlier, more fun to read and easier to understand. So, if you’re still following those rules you learned in school about being more formal when you write than when you talk, I encourage you to loosen up. Putting your thoughts into writing will be easier for you. And reading them will be easier for the rest of us.
Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing more conversational:
- Split your infinitives. It’s okay to intentionally split infinitives. Like I just did in the sentence before this one. Did you notice? Did you care? Probably not. But sometimes people write awkward sentences to keep from splitting their infinitives because we learned in school that splitting infinitives is a big no-no. If you’re still writing those awkward sentences, quit it. Don’t worry about splitting those infinitives. They don’t mind. Neither should you.
- Use personal pronouns. Remember when you wrote book reports in school but weren’t allowed to use personal pronouns like “I” or “you”? Remember the awkward sentences you had to write sometimes because of that? Things like: “As one reads this book, one is reminded that . . .” If you and I were talking with one another, we’d use words like “you” and “I” and “me” all over the place. You can do the same thing when you’re writing. One caveat: If there are too many ‘I’s” and “me’s” in your writing, you may have another problem: Being too self-centered. But that’s another issue entirely.
- End sentence with prepositions. We learned in school that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. Baloney. It’s okay. Really. Don’t know what a preposition is or what a sentence with a preposition at the end of it looks like? Then you’re almost certainly putting prepositions at the end of some of your sentences and don’t notice that the rest of us are doing it, too. Keep it up. But if sentence-ending prepositions bother you, then use Google to check out the “rule” about prepositions at the end of sentences. You won’t find much support for your queasiness.
One important footnote: Making your writing more conversational works in most situations. But not all. If you’re writing an academic paper, legal filing, grant application or some other formal document, you may need to ignore my suggestions and follow the conventions required within that environment.
That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?