For a long time I’ve thought about writing as a friendly competition between myself and my readers. In this model, I am playing chess against their tastes, aesthetics and expectations. Checkmate is evoking a feeling, persuading a point or encouraging a reader to take an action.
This approach is especially apt when it comes to professional blogging and copywriting – scenarios where my web copy is expected not only to produce a reaction in the reader but also encourage a response that is beneficial for my clients.
My secret weapon? Knowing when to use the right words in the right place for the right audience.
Granted, the process isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. That’s why I’m breaking it down for you into manageable chunks. These tips can provide you with a crash course in connecting with your audience through thoughtful selections of word choice and tone.
Word Choice Shapes Your Audience
It’s difficult to express just how important word choice is in determining the size and makeup of your audience. As important as your choice of content and use of proper grammar is, the words you use in your copy will ultimately decide who reads your content and who moves on to the next webpage.
That being said, a thoughtful and intentional attitude toward word choice is necessary if your goal is to develop copy that is both effective and influential.
Consider the following factors when drafting or editing your content to make sure your vocabulary usage is in line with the potential customers your client is trying to reach.
In order to make word choice decisions that will delight a particular audience, it helps to understand what your target audience finds appealing. The type of verbosity that might engender trust with an academic might not fly with a more down-to-earth, slang-friendly crowd, ya dig? That’s just one of the many reasons why strong communication between copywriters and their clients is so essential.
The famous journalism rule of thumb advises writers to produce work at the level an eighth-grader would understand. This approach ensures that the content is as widely accessible as possible.
On the flipside, needlessly using big vocabulary words or constructing complex sentences is a surefire way to make an audience feel unwelcome. When readers run into a paragraph filled with words they don’t understand, they are likely to assume the content wasn’t written with them in mind.
While avoiding language that alienates your audience is important, so too is correctly using vocabulary that establishes your client as a credible authority. Writing for medical professionals, for instance, requires you to use medical terms accurately and appropriately. Failure to do so will make it harder to convince this particular audience that your content is a reliable source of helpful information.
Tone Controls Your Messaging
In copywriting, much like in life, how you say something is as important as what you’re saying.
In terms of composition, “tone” is defined as the writer’s perspective on their topic, as expressed by their word choice and rhetorical strategies.
When an audience feels like content is written from a perspective they can relate to, they are more likely to receive what that content has to say.
Think about how some of your favorite advertisements use language to connect with their target audience. Marketing copy directed at millennials, for example, is often humorous or flippant. This approach plays well with an audience that often identifies with not taking themselves too seriously.
Understanding tone is a critical part of drafting persuasive copy. Here are a few helpful ways to think about finding the right tone for your own copy:
As you might have guessed, word choice will have a very large impact on how your copy’s tone is interpreted by your audience. Language that is inspiring, affirming and motivating is an ideal way to shape the tone of copy that aims to draw a specific action. On the other hand, discouraging and negative language is effective for convincing an audience to avoid a decision they may have made otherwise.
The proper use of descriptive language – think adjectives – will also have a large influence on your copy’s tone. During your editing process, take special care to analyze descriptive language used throughout. Make sure that language inspiring the right tone is used consistently throughout.
Formatting and Punctuation
Word choice will play a large role in deciding how an audience will receive your copy, but it’s not the only factor to consider when editing for tone. Punctuation, grammar use and text formatting will leave an impression on your audience too.
A great example of how formatting impacts tone is the use of bold. When used sparsely and strategically, this type of formatting can add emphasis to certain statements and make copy more persuasive. When used throughout an article or a blog, however, the audience may get the impression that writer is intending to take an informal tone toward their subject.
Depending on your desired tone, the use of bold and italics can be as distracting as it is helpful.
Language Drives Your Brand
It is clear that managing a client’s messaging is a test of control. Your word choice controls your tone. Your tone controls the effectiveness of your messaging.
Now that you understand why word choice and tone are so important, the next question to consider is how you will reliably decide which approach is right for each audience.
As I alluded to earlier, getting access to as much information as possible about your client’s preferred leads is very important in shaping your tone and word choice for a certain content piece.
I also like to use the following maxims when it comes to making tone and word choice decisions. When faced with a choice, I do my best to remember the basic goals of marketing copy.
Regardless of the scenario, most effective word choice and tone strategies are those that:
- Drive marketing goals – This one is pretty straightforward. What narrative is your client trying to communicate to its audience? Which products or pain points are they prioritizing, and does the copy’s language reflect this? If a copy’s tone and word choice are effective in driving the client’s marketing goals, then it is the right copy for the job.
- Affirm company values – An important part of building a brand is to communicate values and a vision to potential customers. Every piece of language used to represent your client will either support or conflict with those stated values. As such, it is very important that your copy’s tone and word choice are in line with these values.
- Support SEO Strategies – Don’t forget about search engine rankings. Though high-quality content is far more important in today’s digital marketing game than it was in the past, following a well-researched SEO and keyword strategy when drafting copy is necessary to get your client the best results possible.
Final Thoughts on Word Choice and Tone
Remember that this resource is meant to be less of a list of hard rules and more of a collection of go-to strategies. Making the right choice when it comes to word choice and tone can still be very tough, even with a million helpful tips.
That’s why I rely on as much help from my peers as I can. When you collaborate with others, whether they be internal experts or consulting professionals like myself, you have a better chance of making sure the language of your copy is going to be received by your audience as you intended.
Want some additional insight on copywriting, crafting your message and getting into the heads of your audience? Read a previous blog article of mine that discusses what happens when you make the wrong assumptions about your readers.