Last week, we started discussing the differences between speaking and writing in a professional sense. As in, what handicaps do you have to overcome when you switch from talking at an audience to writing at an audience.
There are some striking distinctions to take into account. For instance, as we discussed last week, you can’t get away with repetitive filler quite so easily.
It’s easy to say something like “we want this presentation to be as sharp and focused as possible” five times in a spoken hour without destroying people’s perception of you. If that kind of repetition is your way of buying time to figure out what to really say, most people aren’t going to be all that put out by it.
You’re off the hook.
If you wanted to put that verbal presentation into a business blog post, article, pamphlet, or even an email, however… you’d have to significantly cut back on your repetition.
In mere black and white, it would stand out too much in all the wrong ways.
Black and white has a way of messing up a lot of things, admittedly, like tone and volume.
I know I mentioned last week that not every writing complication completely comes down to a speaker’s inability to vary his actual tone or volume. However, that doesn’t mean that tone and volume aren’t extremely important factors in communication.
They’re not so easy to replicate in writing either. Sometimes, they’re even downright impossible.
Only sometimes though. There are tricks to overcome this handicap once you know that you have it.
If you want to emphasize a statement while speaking, for example, you might pause dramatically afterword so that it really sinks in. In the writing world, you can do the same thing by giving it white space to breathe.
Try putting it at the end or perhaps the beginning of a paragraph. It will automatically stand out more when it’s not hemmed in on either side by other sentences.
If you really, really want it to stand out, turn it into its own paragraph altogether. That might feel unnatural on your part, but it sure does make a point from the reader’s perspective.
Tone can also be conveyed through word choice, sentence structure and syllables.
For one thing, don’t just think about what you yourself mean by selecting certain words. Think about how others may perceive them as well.
If the noun, verb, adjective or adverb you’re contemplating has a connotation other than what you intend, consider switching it with a more appropriate synonym.
Also worth noting is how too many short sentences can come across as edgy, snippy or un-engagingly factual. Whereas longer sentences can appear more personable or, depending on how many big words you throw in there, utterly pretentious.
If you want to read more about that aspect in particular, Innovative Editing has a whole blog post on the subject. You can read it right here.
Back to those big words though, the more syllables you put into a written statement, the more likely you are to lose your readers. They’ll see you as being academic, snobby or out-of-touch.
With that said, don’t take this as an excuse to talk down to your readers by using too many small words. You always want to treat them like the big boys and girls they are.
Just don’t work too hard showing off the education level you’ve achieved. Otherwise, your tone might say something you’d really rather it not.