If you’re a blogger, you’ve probably been told at some point that you should “write in a conversational style.”
It’s common advice – for some book authors, not just for bloggers. When I wrote Publishing E-Books for Dummies, Wiley wanted a conversational style too.
Real life conversations, though, have a lot of features that don’t seem to support good writing. In a conversation with friends, you might:
- Jump around between different topics
- Take a while to get to the point
- Use in-jokes (where an outsider wouldn’t get the joke)
- Use ungrammatical constructions – e.g. “Him and me went to the shops…” rather than “He and I went to the shops…”
A disjointed, rambling blog post full of references that no-one will understand and written with non-standard grammar isn’t going to be a great post.
So what do bloggers, editors and publishers mean when they ask for a “conversational style”?
They’re looking for writing that has the flavour of a real conversation without attempting to replicate it. In particular, they’re looking for writing that’s not too formal, that addresses the reader directly, that shows a light sense of humour, and that’s written in a way that’s easy to engage with.
I’m going to take you through some key ways to write in a conversational style … with concrete examples of how you can achieve each one.
#1: Staying Fairly Informal
Conversational writing is fairly informal writing. I like to think of it as if I’m writing an email to a casual friend: I’d make it grammatical and coherent, but I wouldn’t be stuffy!
Two easy ways to make your writing more informal are to:
- Use contractions (e.g. “don’t” for “do not”, “I’m” for “I am”)
- Use regular, everyday language (e.g. “saw” rather than “observed”)
#2: Talking Directly to the Reader
Conversations require more than one person … and this is something you can use in your blog posts (or articles, or book chapters). Write as if you’re talking directly to your reader: this comes across as friendly and immediate.
For instance, a few paragraphs ago, I didn’t write:
“This post will discuss some key ways to write in a conversational style … with concrete examples of how to achieve each one.”
Instead, I wrote:
“I’m going to take you through some key ways to write in a conversational style … with concrete examples of how you can achieve each one.”
#3: Bringing in Personal Experience
While this isn’t something you have to do to achieve a conversational style, I find it often helps to bring in some of your personal experience with the topic at hand.
That could be something as simple as a single sentence – e.g. in the introduction, I explained, “When I wrote Publishing E-Books for Dummies, Wiley wanted this type of style too.”
Just like using “you”, using the word “I” helps to draw a closer connection between you and the reader.
#4: Having a Sense of Humour
I’m not a naturally funny person and I sometimes have to make an effort with this one! But a little bit of humour can make your writing more engaging and accessible. You don’t have to crack jokes – you might gently poke fun at yourself, for instance.
In my post Why You Should Stick to One Name for Each Character in Your Novel, I wrote:
I’m “Mummy” to my kids, occasionally “Mum” (they’re not convinced that I even have another name).
While it’s not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, I’d hope that line at least raises a wry smile from fellow parents.
#5: Being Open to Responses
In a conversation, you (hopefully!) don’t do all the talking.
One simple way to make your posts more conversational is to ask for responses: to invite comments where readers can tell you what they think about a particular topic.
Like most bloggers, I tend to do this with an explicit invitation at the end of the post (and you’ll see one in a moment!) – but sometimes it can be helpful to pave the way for comments earlier on. This could mean writing something in your introduction like, “I’m sure I don’t have all the answers – so as you read through, if you feel that I’ve missed something out, do share it in the comments.”
So, over to you … what would you consider to be hallmarks of “conversational” writing? Do you deliberately try to make your own writing conversational – and if so, how do you do that? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.