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Write Like This, Not Like That

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Here’s a professional writing tip to take…

Write like you speak, not like how you think you should write in order to be taken seriously.

Doing the opposite – writing like an intensely intellectual academic – is something that trips up professional writers everywhere. They think that’s the way to gain respect, agreement, and a following.

But in today’s day and age, that’s just not true.

I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again: Most people aren’t looking for intensely intellectual academic presentations. They’re looking for engaging presentations.

So the more engaging you present your information, the greater the chance you have of people reading what you write.

If you’re writing for a medical journal or some other exceptionally solemn, exceptionally specific publication, then maybe that’s different. But, overall, keep this mantra in mind whenever you’re composing a to-be-published piece…

Keep it relatable. Or, to quote that annoying, over-used, misused piece of advice, “be yourself.”

Just as long as “yourself” is appropriate for your audience, it actually does apply in this case.

Let’s start out with an example of what’s not so relatable, such as this paragraph:

Another crucial conclusion came from an examination she initiated that took into account almost 500 case studies of federal correctional facilities from the mid-20th century. At the time they were conducted, the expert consensus was that inmates convicted of and incarcerated due to violent offenses bore a 79% risk of repeating their violations if released.

First off, I made that up. So don’t be quoting anything in it the next time criminal reform comes up in conversation with your friends, family or coworkers.

Secondly, why use all those big words and convoluted sentence structures when you can put it like this instead:

She came to another important conclusion after analyzing 500 case studies of federal prisons between 1940 and 1960. During this period, experts believed that prisoners convicted of violent offenses were 79% more likely to repeat their crimes if released.

In this case – and most others – less words + more understandable vocabulary = a better read.

Before you protest too much, it’s not anti-academic or unintellectual to use less words and more understandable vocabulary. For proof, look no further than Psychology Today, a respected publication with scores of academics and intellectuals on its writing Rolodex.

Consider the following passage:

How do you know if you use passive aggressiveness in your relationship to express your hidden anger?
When you’ve hidden your anger from everyone, including yourself, it can be hard to see what’s really there. When you conceal your anger, the best indicator may be what is not seen or expressed.

That was written by Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. and M.F.T., “a marriage and family therapist” who “brings over 35 years of clinical experience to the role of individual family therapist, couples counseling, group therapy and anger management classes,” according to her official Psychology Today profile.

Yet she sounds very relatable, as if you’re sitting across from her in person: the local therapist you’ve come to know, trust and like. Maybe even like your mom or best friend trying to get through to you when you’re struggling.

That’s what’s going to create connections with your readers – both in the beginning and in the end.

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