How the right ‘tone of voice’ helps readers connect with your blog posts

 Blogging, Marketing, Writing  Comments Off on How the right ‘tone of voice’ helps readers connect with your blog posts
Oct 252016
 

Duplo

If you’ve ever watched a toddler getting to grips with interlocking bricks, you’ll understand the difference between something hitting home or connecting and something utterly not hitting the spot. The child will push one block onto another, often with some force. If the inter-connecting studs and shafts are not lined up, the blocks don’t stick together. Not just that, they often fall apart, back into two separate pieces. Finding the space where the pieces inter-lock often happens more by luck than judgment. When a toddler first makes two bricks ‘lock’ together, there is a look of mystified joy. Unsure how it happened, the child nonetheless, sees two blocks become one right before her eyes.

That connection happens when the pieces line up. Writing for a business blog is also about connection. Connecting the essence of your post to a corresponding feeling in the reader. That feeling might be curiosity, aspiration or need. One of the tools we have as writers to help that message connect, is so called ‘tone of voice’.

What is tone of voice?

In speaking, tone refers to the modulation of the voice which conveys different emotion. So a stern tone would be used when issuing warnings, a reassuring tone when trying to calm a panicky crowd, you get the idea.

In writing, we don’t have the benefit of audio so we rely on choosing words, phrases and sentence construction to convey different feelings or emotions. Before we can do this, we need to consider what ‘tone of voice’ we want to use.

You may not have thought about this before. Yet in every day life, you naturally and easily adapt your tone of voice depending on the situation and the audience and crucially what you want to achieve.

Take for example the tone of voice we use when talking to a cat. Usually we want to express our love and appreciation for the cat so we use a warm, caressing tone. Compare that with the tone we might use if pulled over for speeding by a police officer. Not wanting a ticket, we will use a deferential, polite tone (usually), hoping to flatter the policeman’s ego, appeal to her better nature and avoid attracting a harsh penalty.

In the same way, reflecting on what feeling you want to convey can help you refine your ‘tone of voice’. This list gives you an idea of different ‘tones’ you can give your writing:-

  • Confident
  • Authoritarian
  • Safe pair of hands
  • Integrity
  • Power
  • Influence
  • Appreciation
  • Understanding
  • Leadership
  • Conspiratorial
  • Confidante
  • Guide
  • Person next door
  • Trailblazer
  • Exciting
  • Funny

As you can see from the list, the tone of voice also injects some personality into your blog. What kind of personality you aim for will depend on what kind of content you offer.

At heart your business blog aims to bring traffic to your sales pages and ultimately bring opportunities and sales into your business. Generally a business blog aspires to build relationships with prospects and customers by becoming a trusted resource for one or more of the following:-

  • Information
  • Advice
  • Entertainment
  • Tips
  • Innovation
  • Insider news
  • Connections
  • News
  • Guidance
  • Behind the scenes

Consider what tone of voice suits each type of content

For example if you pick up a newspaper or listen to news bulletins you’ll notice the tone used is confident and authoritative. This is achieved by a pared down style where every word contributes to conveying the details of the story. News stories don’t encourage reflection in the listener/reader. They are all about ‘who, what, where, when and how’. Reflection can come later. The sentences are crisp and brisk demanding that you pay attention and listen carefully. Think of the war time families gathered around the radio listening avidly to news bulletins.

Isn’t it rather contrived to ‘create’ a tone of voice?

Your writing will have a tone of voice whether you consciously ‘create’ one or not. If you understand the impact tone of voice has then you get to play and have fun exploring different approaches to writing your blog. Adopting a tone of voice and even a persona for your blog can turn blog writing from a chore to a joy. There’s no need to worry about adopting an inauthentic tone of voice.

If you can’t, pull off the stern school mistress tone, then it won’t ever get off the drawing board. However giving yourself permission to let go of a so-called business-like tone will allow more freedom and self-expression. What emerges may surprise you.

Just as the toddler discovers the joy of connection when the building blocks stick together, you too can add more fun to your writing (and more engagement for your reader) when you find a tone of voice that connects you, your message and your audience.

Tone of voice is only one of several devices you can use to convey a particular feeling to your writing. If you’d like help with writing skills please contact me.

3 ways article writing boosts your credibility and your business

 Article writing, Blogging, Writing  Comments Off on 3 ways article writing boosts your credibility and your business
Sep 212016
 

When I visit a new town, I love to explore on foot. Getting off the main drag, seeking out the quieter streets. Sure, it takes more time than just going directly from A to B but I’m rewarded with a much richer experience. I get a sense of the layout of the town, some impression of its size, affluence and history. Its uniqueness is more obvious away from the crowds and high street stores. Oftentimes I come across charming scenes, far from the madding crowd.

In the same way, investing time article writing, may feel like a circuitous way to get sales but it offers both you and your customers a richer experience of your business which in turn leads to more pleasure and profit in doing business. In this article, we’ll look at just 3 of the ways writing articles boosts your credibility and your business

1) Showcases your expertise or passion
2) Makes you visible
3) Dramatically extends your reach

Let’s look at each in more detail

1) Showcases your expertise or passion

Whatever your business, there will be something only you can write about. Something that will impress, educate, delight or amuse your customers and potential customers. Something that combines your expertise with what you offer. For business to business services this can be fairly straight foward. A business consultant would have an endless supply of topics they can write on about improving your business.  Article writing showcases your expertise, demonstrating skills, confidence and a willingness to share information before you’re paid for it. This tends to suggest there is even more where that came from. It also indicates a passion for what you do.

Where you are selling to consumers, there is usually even greater scope for topics for articles. For example: a heritage railway can have a series of different articles: some following the work of a project, such as restoration of a locomotive; others showcasing the volunteer opportunities available and still others giving a behind-the-scenes look at running the heritage trains. Not only does it reveal your passion or expertise beyond what you can convey in a static web page, it also helps bring people to your website.

2) Makes you visible

Not instantly, but regularly publishing well-written, well-tagged articles on a blog or website, builds a body of work which you can point new contacts too. Regular articles show a website is loved and updated. Fresh content improves traffic to your site. Sharing your articles on social media sites such as LinkedIN, Twitter, Medium and Facebook and sending them to your email list, raises your profile as an expert and will bring people to check out your product and services pages on your website.

Beyond the opens and clicks of each campaign, article writing has a further benefit.

3) Dramatically extends your reach

Once you start writing about what you know and love, and publishing those articles through social media, opportunities as yet unimagined, can come your way. You may be asked to write for someone else’s blog. You may get an enquiry for your site to be used as a location for filming, or to collaborate with someone on a new venture. This is because you are establishing a confident and knowledgeable presence on the internet. You become visible and people get a much richer sense of what you and your business offers.

So if you want to showcase your expertise or passion, make your business or organisation more visible on and offline and dramatically extend your reach for, as yet unknown, opportunities then start writing articles for your blog or website.

Not confident about your writing skills?

There are heaps of online courses to help improve your writing skills. Writing skills can be learnt and improved but more importantly, begin to explore topics and angles you can write about with confidence. Look at your business from the point of view of your customers. How can you educate, inspire, amuse or delight them?

If you’d like to book a one off or regular sessions with me, Juliet Fay to help generate creative ideas or for help with writing skills, do get in touch.

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How using the Gunning Fog Index improves your writing

 copywriting, Marketing, Writing  Comments Off on How using the Gunning Fog Index improves your writing
Jul 122013
 

I can never get fairy cakes to rise. They come out the oven, lopsided, and barely peeping over the cases. In short, they are an embarrassment. Is it the sifting, the eggs, the mixing, my oven or simple incompetence?

I’ve never got to the bottom of it. Consequently making fairy cakes is demoralising.

It can be like that with writing. You know your writing could be improved. It could have more impact, flow better or be easier to compose, but you’re not sure exactly where the problem is or how to fix it.

And so when you have to write, you end up feeling dissatisfied.

This is where online writing tools can help you find and fix issues with your writing.

Introducing The Gunning Fog Index

Today, I’m going to take a look at The Gunning Fog Index or Chop and Fog as I like to call it. This tool gives you a score for a passage of text you enter.

The score represents the reading age needed to understand the text.

It measures the score using:

  • the number of words in the passage
  • the number of 3 syllable words
  • the number of punctuation marks

What score should you aim for?

As a copywriter, I want to get a message across as easily as possible. I don’t want to write in a way that’s hard to read or doesn’t flow. For that reason I like to aim for a score of below 12.
You might think a reading age of 12 is a bit low.
Let’s take a couple of examples.

Example 1: blog post from Monsanto, a biotech corporation

The May 21, 2013, Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium brought government, business, and civil society leaders together to capitalize on the power of connecting science, trade, and business to end hunger and poverty. At Global Harvest Initiative, these concepts are woven into our policy and investment priorities that can improve productivity throughout the value chain and sustainably meet the demands of a growing world.
 
The application of new and existing technologies across the agricultural value chain is a significant factor in raising agricultural productivity. Science-based technology, such as seed and fertilizer, and information technology, including better weather models and plant spacing techniques, increase yields through better inputs and better on-farm decision-making.
 
Many speakers at the Chicago Council event focused on the importance of farmers’ access to science and information technology to sustainable increase agricultural productivity.
 
Dr. Mauricio Antonio Lopes, president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), explained that a move to science-based agriculture, including improved seeds and no-till agriculture, helped Brazil increase efficiency and productivity by up to 200 percent and reduce land expansion into sensitive rainforest environments.
 
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation deputy director of research and development Dr. Rob Horsch talked about the importance of working with local farmers to adapt technology to solve local problems. Critically, he also stressed the importance of a feedback loop whereby farmers determine what they need and provide information on how technology worked, which is fed back into the research.
This passage scores 20.6 in the Gunning Fog Index
Monsanto's blog post in the Gunning Fog Index

Monsanto’s blog post in the Gunning Fog Index

This passage scores 20.6 in the Gunning Fog Index
The high score is because there are few punctuation marks and many three syllable words.
A large corporation such as Monsanto, has the resources to hire expert copy writers, editors and PR professionals to ensure that all messages in the public domain endorse the brand position. So it is interesting to ask why such a company would choose to publish copy that has a relatively high score on this index.

Why organisations sometimes prefer to use complex language

It could be ignorance. Maybe the author is not aware that her post is not as clear and simple as it could be. More likely, Monsanto deliberately opts for language that is harder to understand in order to sound authoritative and professional.

Scientists, bureaucrats and civil servants have for years used deliberately dense language to hide their true meaning from the general population. Think Yes Minister, the popular British TV comedy in which Sir Humphrey often confused the minister by talking in circles. It is a form of control.

If you make text hard to understand, the idea is the reader will feel it is beyond their intelligence. The end result is that the reader won’t dare to question the content in case they look stupid. This type of deliberate confusion should be avoided if you want to engage with your readers (and we do).

Does this mean that you should write in childlike language?

Not at all. It is a common misconception that compelling, easy to understand copy is simplistic and “dumbed down.” Let’s take another example that shows how copy can be clear yet grown up.

Example 2: Copy from an email sent out by a charity

Yesterday SolarAid became winners of a £500,000 Google Global Impact Award, following a flurry of activity from wonderful SolarAid fans who spread the word to friends and networks across the world about the incredible power of our solar lights.

Thank you for your support to help us win this award. We have been overwhelmed by the involvement of so many SolarAiders, old and new. Your enthusiasm and passion for SolarAid kept us going when the going seemed tough – we couldn’t have done it without you.

SolarAid will use the half a million pound prize to get 144,000 solar lights into rural Tanzania and recruit 400 school leavers to create a new generation of solar entrepreneurs. The support pledged by Google to the four Award winners will help SolarAid raise its profile, gain more supporters and ensure the injustice of living without clean light gets onto the world radar.

All this takes us a giant step further towards our goal of eradicating the kerosene lamp from Africa. If you’d like to share the excitement and watch the change unfold click here.

We’d also love you to spread our appreciation to everyone you asked to get involved – so please forward this message along with a BIG THANK YOU from SolarAid. 

Light is a basic human need, just like food, shelter and water. In the words of African-American civil rights activist, Ella Baker: “Give light and people will find the way.”
 
Stay with us while we lead an initiative that will literally light up millions of lives. 

Many thanks,
 
Pippa Palmer
Copy from Solar Aid email

Copy from Solar Aid email

This passage scores 9.139. That means it’s suitable for someone with a reading age below 10 years.

The piece is compelling and clear. It isn’t simplistic or dumbed down. Breaking up longer sentences has helped keep the score down. The writer hasn’t avoided 3 syllable words (it would be folly to try). They have just used them sparingly.
The writing convinces us through it’s simple, clear message with verifiable facts and figures. The passion behind the words comes through loud and clear.
The Gunning Fog Index highlighted the different reading ages needed for these two passages. They also show, in my opinion, which piece is more engaging.

How does that help your writing?

1. It makes you think about writing more clearly and simply. Used regularly, you will form better writing habits.
2. It shows you the 3 syllable words you’re using. Are there too many? Can you exchange some for simpler words?
3. It highlights over long sentences. It’s easy to chop a sentence in two and lower your score.
4. Adding a short sentence now and then makes the copy more interesting.
5. You can achieve a score below 13 without dumbing down.
Writing tools don’t do the job for you but shed light on writing habits. They’re fun to use now and then. When you find a good piece of writing, run it through the index.
Once you know how it works, you can use it to improve your writing, knowing you’re making your copy more readable. Unlike my fairy cakes, you can then feel pleased with your results.
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If you’d like 1:2:1 coaching or a critique of your writing, please email me for a quote.
May 012013
 

 

Pull out some fresh verbs

Pull out some fresh verbs

The first meal my husband cooked for me was Dahl Baht Thakari. A Nepalese dish. It was a dish he’d eaten every day for 3 years during his volunteer stint in Nepal.

Every single day.

For most of us eating the same food every day would be awful. So how did he manage to eat it day in, day out? 

The ingredients varied. Sometimes, there’d be cauliflower, other times, cabbage, occasionally meat. Different spices were added. There wasn’t an unlimited variety. Only what was available locally but it was enough to freshen up the meal each time and add that much needed variety.

When it comes to writing, we need to freshen up our repertoire by seeking out fresh verbs to keep our writing lively and interesting.

What are fresh verbs?

Verbs are the “doing” or “action” words in your copy like seeing, walking, running, finding, looking, working out. All these words are general. See what happens when you substitute more specific verbs:

He went up the hill

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He struggled up the hill

He strode up the hill

He bounded up the hill

He trudged up the hill

Each alternative gives more detail about how he went up that hill. Our mental image of the the man changes with each fresh verb. You see him bent double as he struggles up the hill, whereas we imagine an upright figure moving purposefully when we read strode. 

Using more specific verbs adds colour and drama to the message. We can all get stuck in a rut with our writing.

Are your verbs a little tired from overuse?

If you write often, chances are you rely on a few favourite verbs. Take a look and you’ll find the same culprits turning up every time.

Nothing necessarily wrong with your well chosen verbs but all of us need a spring clean now and then so we can de-clutter and usher in the new.

Like the seasonal, local vegetables, your new verbs need to be fresh but not too unfamiliar.


More examples

Analyze the pictures these phrases create in your mind.

We brought the sheep off high ground

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We herded the sheep off high ground

We steered the sheep off high ground

We hurried the sheep off high ground

We coaxed the sheep off high ground

We led the sheep off high ground



Each change of verb, conjures up a different image of the people doing the sheep moving. When you herd sheep you’re behind them, when you lead sheep you’re ahead of them. 

One way to bring different verbs to mind, is to think of the picture you want to create first. Add in the detail. What’s the temperature? Hot or cold? Think of verbs that indicate those things such as, “puffed and shivered“.”

Does it really make much difference?

Make every word count

Your copy is competing with so much material online, make every word count. Fresh verbs convey so much more than the everyday general action words.

Fresh but not obscure

Be careful you don’t go mad and alienate your reader by choosing words they don’t understand. As the famous copywriter David Ogilvy found, this doesn’t help communication,

“I once used the word ‘obsolete’ in a headline, only to discover that 43% of housewives had no idea what it meant. In another headline I used the word ‘ineffable,’ only to discover that I didn’t know what it meant myself.” – David Ogilvy

Aren’t these verbs a bit dramatic for sales copy?

A bit of drama can liven up sales copy no end. Sales writers often use stories and examples to illustrate points. A few fresh verbs will add colour and ease the reader’s journey to the end of your copy.

Foodwise you can stay seasonal but spice up your cooking with new varieties. It’s the same with verbs. Reach for verbs that add extra juicy detail to your message.

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Want to learn more about writing for the web? Join me at my West Wales marketing workshops.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have 12 months worth of articles for your e-newsletter all stacked up, ready to go? Find out more about my article writing services.

Mar 192013
 

Huli Who, Lily Lists or Milly Mistake; keep it interesting by mixing up your article formats

All you can eat buffet

All you can eat buffet

Have you ever attacked an ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET, got half way through and felt bloated and overfull? Bet you wish you’d gone for small plates instead.

This is what can happen when you begin to write about your experiences, knowledge or skill areas for your article marketing campaigns. You suddenly realise how much you have to say and before you know it you are metaphorically heaping the plate of your reader until they are overloaded with information.

There is another way.

Use pre-defined article formats to avoid bloating, or dumping too much information on your poor unsuspecting subscriber.

3 formats I’m going to talk about in this post are:

1. The Huli Who article format

2. Lily List article format

3. Milly Mistake article format

Let’s take each of those in turn.

1. Huli Who article

Huli tribes people Papua New Guinea

Add impact using the Huli Who article format

The Huli is a tribe that live in the Tari Basin in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, renowned for their head dresses made of human hair and bird of paradise feathers.

They sure make an impact.

This is what you’re aiming for with your article marketing campaigns. IMPACT.

In the Huli Who article, you take a topic and give it the WHAT?, WHO?, WHERE?, HOW? and WHY IT MATTERS treatment.

 

Let’s take an example:

 

Title: Why the Huli Who article format gives your article marketing more impact

What?

The Huli Who is an article format that takes a specific topic and applies the WHAT?, WHO? WHERE?, HOW? and WHY IT MATTERS treatment.

Where?

It’s particularly useful for writers who need to break down and share expertise across a large subject such as web development or photography.

Who?

Pick up a daily newspaper and you’ll find plenty of Huli Who article formats. It’s particularly useful for article marketing campaigns that aim to drive your website up the organic search listings. By choosing a specific topic like ‘article marketing’ you get plenty of opportunities to use relevant search terms.

How?

Break down a subject area down into manageable chunks and use the Huli Who format to keep you from straying off topic.

Why it matters?

This format is popular with editors and readers alike. It helps you the writer get to the heart of the matter quickly and makes it easier for the reader to digest.

The Huli Who article format relies on choosing a very specific topic. If you find it difficult to nail down a specific angle, you’ll love the Lily List format. It’s nice and structured and has a high, built-in, curiosity factor.

2. Lily List article format

You already know lists are popular. Magazines love them and for good reason. Lists are easy to read and digest. You can scan them quickly.

The information is easy to remember and implement. Even better, lists made up of short phrases work well on small screens such smart phones (27% of emails are opened on mobile devices*). You can use the Lily List article format for serious or silly topics in your article marketing campaigns.

Here’s some examples

  • 8 things to teach your child before they’re 12 years old
  • 6 signs you’ve become a GOW, Grumpy Old Woman
  • 10 ways to promote your email list
  • 5 ways to prevent red mite in your chicken house

You can see these headlines pull you in and make you curious to know what’s in the list. They promise new information or pique the reader’s competitive interest. Will they know everything on the list? The key here, once again, is to get really specific with your topic. Which brings us to the final, under-used format.

3. Milly Mistake article format

Often overlooked, showing how “not to do” something is a powerful way to teach. WARNING. Do not criticise your subscribers’ efforts. They won’t thank you for it. Instead choose one of your own mistakes. Tell the story and explain how you learnt from it.

Being prepared to share your mistakes brings you closer to your subscribers.

One of my favourite Milly Mistake stories is from our organic Box Scheme days.

How we created Olympic rabbits

Hungry rabbits can destroy vegetable crops in a matter of minutes. We planted 750 cabbages and the next morning they’d vanished, devoured by rabbits. Urgent action was required. We set to work to fence the field to keep the blighters out. We duly dug a trench around 12 acres (a long and arduous task) and buried chicken wire a foot below ground to stop them burrowing underneath.

It stood 4 feet, 6 inches high. That should do it

To our horror, the rabbits simply leapt over it. So we raised it. Undeterred and in fact relishing the challenge, they jumped higher and cleared it. We kept adding fencing, raising the height, until we finally kept out our Olympic rabbits with a 5 foot, 6 inch high fence.

Moral of the story?

With crop protection, go in belt and braces in the first instance. If they don’t make it over the fence first time, they’ll go and find something else to eat otherwise you’ll be helping create olympic rabbits.

You can see the power of the Milly Mistake article. Stories have been used throughout human history to show and tell. Keep a record through notes, photos, screenshots or copies of old websites, newsletters and other material to make it easy to create Milly Mistake articles.

 Aren’t these article formats a bit formulaic?

Web writers use structured outlines like these to speed up their article writing. It gives you an outline and the reader a manageable “plate of information”. The content will still be uniquely yours.

So avoid serving up an all you can eat buffet in your articles, instead help yourself produce “small plates” by using article formats like Huli Who, Lily Lists or Milly Mistake to keep your articles manageable for your reader.

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*http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9591-27-of-emails-are-opened-on-mobile-devices-stats

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Why there are no quick fixes in the battle against resistance | Small Farm Future

 Writing  Comments Off on Why there are no quick fixes in the battle against resistance | Small Farm Future
Nov 202012
 

This is from my other blog, for smallholders and small scale farmers wanting to create abundant holdings for the future.

Why there are no quick fixes in the battle against resistance | Small Farm Future.

We were stuck. Ahead was a huge fallen tree blocking our path. Wrapped around with magi, the local ivy, which fouled the chainsaw every few minutes as we tried to clear a path. Would we ever get through? With temperatures in the low thirties, it was exhausting work, but no-one ever suggested we turn back.

It took 2, sweat drenched, days but eventually we cleared that tree and continued our expedition.

That fallen tree represented an extreme and physical form of resistance that we battled against. Resistance shows up all the time when you’re trying to get a project done but what exactly do we mean by the term?

Read more