It sounds so obvious.
And yet, if you’re like me, and have ever stared into the void of a Word document while trying to eke out some business “copy,” you’re probably aware of how easy it is to forget you’re writing for a flesh-and-blood human being (or, hopefully, tons and tons of them.)
But here’s the no-brainer insight I often overlook: People are not clones or algorithms or avatars. And they certainly aren’t robots. The fact is, every single person who reads your content has a complex, unique, busy life—one with relationships that need tending, errands that need running, work that needs completing. Everyone has their own hodgepodge of struggles, goals, insecurities, passions, worries, and preferences.
And from that particular place, someone reads your words. Will he or she find the writing boring, confusing, or impersonal? Or will he or she find the writing funny, informative, or engaging?
Here are a few quick fixes to make your copy sound like it was written by a human, for a human.
1) Kick jargon to the curb
Copywriter Kayla Lewkowicz reminds us every brand has a set of vocabulary, phrases, and acronyms that make sense to them—but that excludes everyone else not familiar to that field.
Corporate, medical, legal, scientific, economic, or artistic jargon may be useful in your workplace, but if that lingo has no meaning for people outside your industry, it will go in one ear and out the other without ever sticking in their brains. And if you want your business to grow, you need to own real estate in people’s brains!
You don’t have to dumb things down. Just use plain language.
2) Use active voice
Do you remember learning about active voice in middle school and then never caring about it again? Well, it’s time to care again. In grammatical terms, active sentences are those where the subject is doing the action, while passive sentences are those where something is being done to the object. (Did your eyes just glaze over and flashback to your 5th grade English class? Whew, glad it wasn’t just me.)
Essentially, “active” sentences are more concise, clear, and robust, while “passive” ones are more vague, bland, and weak. Which sounds more vibrant: “The job opening was responded to” (passive) or “He responded to the job opening” (active)? Exactly.
3) Use contractions
Some businesses act like contractions are too casual or lazy, but they’re (see what I did there?) how people actually communicate in the real world. Never using a contraction can make your writing seem distant, cold, or—dare I say it—robotic. Copywriter Mish Slade points out that a lack of contractions makes writing come off as too stuffy and academic, but using them instantly humanizes your words. It’s the difference between “You will feel better” and “You’ll feel better!”
4) “Energize” your writing
Sometimes, in order to sound less pushy and salesy, you just need to slightly tweak your copy until it speaks with someone, instead of at them. Copywriter Ashlyn Writes made an infographic with examples of phrases that “connect from the heart and cut through the noise,” because their tone is either giving, respecting, or energizing. Here are three of my favorite examples:
You can download the full infographic here!
5) Answer these two basic questions
It all boils down to this: when someone is reading about the product or service you’re selling, they only want to know two things:
1) Will this improve my life [physically, emotionally, relationally, financially, professionally, spiritually, etc.] or in some other way?
2) Is the [cost, time, effort, etc.] worth it?
Our job as copywriters is to answer both questions with an emphatic “YES!” and then explain how and why. We just have to remember who we’re speaking to: people. Not robots.