Earlier this summer at the last #SoCapOtt twitter chat, Lara sent this tweet:
The statement was so simple, yet so profound and I have thought about it quite a bit in the weeks since. Lara and I both have years of experience writing for the web and have both found our distinct voices. My writing is definitely more formal than Lara’s, but - as much as I wish it weren’t so - I naturally speak more formally too. I have a lot of respect for the way that Lara says things simply and concisely and I know I’m not alone in that.
If you disregard the technical skills of writing - grammar, punctuation and spelling - and focus solely on style, there are two important areas that can influence how your words are received by readers online.
Active vs. passive voice
Always be cognizant of active vs. passive voice in your writing – online and off. Generally, the experts would say active voice is strongly preferred in most writing, but this is especially true of writing for the web. If you aren’t sure which voice you’re using, these articles may help you:
- Passive Voice
- Introduction to writing copy for the web
- Using the Active Voice to strengthen your writing
- 7 examples of passive voice (and how to fix them)
This is not to say that passive voice is always wrong – it isn’t! However, choose carefully when you employ passive voice; readers on the web tend to engage better with content that has an active voice. Active voice is easier to comprehend, quicker to read, and gives concrete action.
I am the QUEEN OF PASSIVE VOICE at times - or I used to be. I’ve worked hard to reduce the amount of passive voice in my writing so that what I have to say has greater clarity and focus.
I think formal vs. informal is much more subjective than passive vs. active. If you speak formally, that IS your voice. If you speak informally, that IS your voice. It’s an area where good writers are able to be flexible. They use formal or informal tone as required by the purpose, medium and audience of a piece. However, if you’re all the writing for your small business blog and social networking accounts, you are likely THE voice of the brand and it is appropriate that it should sound like you.
Online, the style that is easier for readers to engage with and respond to is informal, or conversational.
It makes sense; we’re all participating in a conversation on our blogs, social networks, and email that often extends to phone calls and face-to-face meetings. You can’t go wrong if you write conversationally.
Pro-tip: Record and Transcribe
Not sure if you’re writing the way you speak? Instead of typing your next post, record your thoughts and then transcribe. How does it compare to your usual content?
If you find it’s significantly different and you like the result from transcribing, try out some of the voice to text software that’s available.