Do you have any word-nerd confessions?
I do. Back in seventh grade, I started a love affair with words that were three syllables or longer. Each week, I’d scour the thesaurus for lengthy words to replace the simple ones I used. I’d write the new words on my palm till I had them memorized.
Besides being the epitome of cool at my school (or the opposite, depending on your appreciation of words), I didn’t sound like anyone else when I spoke or wrote.
Eventually, teenage-angst made me regret this and I did everything I could to fit in with the “Like, totally, for sure, so cool!” girls.
But now that I get paid to use words for a living, it turns out that my first approach to communication — that is, sounding like nobody else — is far more profitable than blending in with the rest of the world.
So today, I’m going to share six ways to infuse your copy with your own personality so your writing is distinct, appealing, and most importantly, profitable.
#1: Always Go Three or Below
The first rule to adding personality to your copy is to simplify. In other words, scrap the long words and complex sentences.
Those lengthy words I grew up loving will kill the message in your copy faster than rain dries in the desert. Make it a habit to comb through your copy for long words and switch them out with shorter, simpler words or phrases. Rarely will you ever want to keep a word that’s more than three syllables. Aim for three syllables or less when possible.
The same is true for long sentences. Very rarely is a three-line sentence ever justified in sales copy. Those kinds of sentences get too mired with excessive punctuation and complicated thoughts. Keep your sentence length at three lines or less. If you have something longer, chop it up.
#2: Write Like You’re in Sixth Grade
This rule builds on the last one. A well-known trick to clear writing is to use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test to measure readability. (In most versions of Microsoft Word, you can access it through the spell-check menu.)
FK looks at your word length and sentence length to figure out the reading-ease of your copy. The higher your reading ease, the lower your grade level.
Note: This is not the same thing as “dumbing down” your copy. You’re best off assuming your prospects are intelligent. But you’re not trying to impress them. You’re trying to make a connection. Short words and easy-to-digest sentences loaded with personality can help you do that.
#3: Use “Logical Punctuation”
“Proper” punctuation and formal statements are the stuff that makes readers’ eyes glaze over. Don’t worry about run-on sentences, dangling participles, or the under-appreciated semi-colon.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use punctuation — because it’s essential for clarity purposes.
It just means not to stress about formal punctuation rules. So instead of reaching back in your mind to blackboard lessons from high school English, just read your stuff out loud as if you’re talking to a friend. If you come to a point where you’d naturally pause in the conversation, stick a comma there. Maybe even a period. If you find the transition to a new sentence needs some kind of bridge word, slap a “so” or an “and” or a “but” onto the front of it.
It might make your high school composition teacher shudder, but maybe he’ll forgive you when you explain you get paid to do this.
#4: Write a Lot. A Lot.
This is the best win-win rule ever: The more you write, the better you’ll get.
I’m talking better on all levels, too. Better at writing fast, better at crafting ideas, and better at writing with personality. The more you write, the more your own voice comes through. Formal writing lessons will fade to black.
Any kind of writing practice you can manage will do the trick. You can free-write on random topics, craft poetry, write in a journal, or just set a timer and scribble words out. Aim to do it for at least 30 minutes per day. No matter how you approach it, regular writing exercises your brain and helps you perfect your voice.
#5: Use Humor and Opinions
Listen, readers these days get hit with a ton of content — it’s what makes writing for the Web such a dream job. But because there’s so much content, it’s important to stand out. An easy way to do that is to pepper your copy with jokes and irony. Things you’d say if you were joking with a friend, in other words.
Just keep in mind that what’s funny to one person can offend someone else. Best rule of thumb is to keep your jokes clean. Think along PG lines.
This also goes back to the importance of knowing your audience. If you’re writing for an older, conservative crowd, the things they’ll find funny will be a far cry from what a liberal college student might laugh at. Do your research well, and you’ll generally be okay. But that takes us to our last rule …
#6: Get a Second Opinion
The best writers I know have a second-in-command who reads and critiques their copy. Sometimes it’s a spouse, a son or daughter, a parent, or a fellow writer.
Second opinions are priceless. Find someone you can trust and give them your copy to read on a regular basis. Tell them what you’re going for: “This one’s supposed to be funny … not boring … friendly.”
Make sure you choose someone who will give it to you straight. My go-to review master is my husband, for a few reasons: He’s not a writer. He can’t stand reading fluff and gets annoyed by drawn-out pieces. Plus, he’s not afraid to tell me I can do better.
If you can choose someone who knows you well, they’ll provide a solid opinion on whether your writing “sounds like you.”
A Good Writing Personality Means a Long-Lasting Career
Remember, people buy from (and hire) people they like. Your personality is often the key to success as a writer, because it separates you from the crowd. Personality is how people decide whether they like other people. When you’re too cookie-cutter, you’re too boring.
But if you’re bold, funny, approachable, unique, or anything that directly relates to the type of personality that jives with a specific market … then writing with personality is what lands you the job. And delivers the result your client is after.