The Art and Science of Being Believable
Growing up, even though we sometimes didn’t have enough money for food or shoes, we had books.
My mother made sure of that.
She read to my sister and me from before I can remember. Not just fairy tales. She read us Greek, Roman, and Norse myths. (I knew of Loki before I knew of President Eisenhower.)
She scrimped and saved to buy us the World Book Encyclopedia when I was just barely five.
My mother’s greatest gift to me is my love of books, reading, and, most of all, words.
So I credit my mother (or maybe I should say “blame” her) for a quirk I have. When I’m writing or talking, I’ll often come up with words like “obfuscate” before my mind drills down to “hide.”
I’m not trying to show off. That’s just the way my mind works.
This suited me well in high school and college. But in copywriting, that’s another story.
Drop those fancy words out of your copy
Here’s why my love of what I call fancy words is a problem. Take a look at this paragraph …
To attain primacy in your chosen vocational pursuit of copywriting and its adjunct services, remember the significance of eschewing sesquipedalian rhetorical constructs and the necessity of writing in a manner that replicates instinctive vocal phrasing and intonation.
Translation: To be a successful copywriter, write like you talk.
The field of study called Cognitive Fluency gives copywriters three important reasons for doing that.
The first has to do with a natural human tendency. When given a choice between reading something easy vs. something harder, we choose the easier one.
It’s not laziness. We choose the easier path because it’s most efficient. Your prospects have a great deal to do during the day. Easy wins out over harder, because easy helps us accomplish more of what we need and want to do.
So, on that basis alone, if your reader has trouble understanding your words, he’s not going to reach for the dictionary. He’s going to reach for the trash can.
The second reason is The “echo effect” …
Let’s say you’ve grabbed your prospect’s attention with your headline and lead, and he decides to bull through the body copy.
He keeps reading. But your words — even the way your words are presented on the page — produce an “echo effect.” Here’s how this goes.
Two psychologists at the University of Michigan published a study in the journal Psychological Science. One experiment had subjects read instructions for a simple neck exercise. One was written in an easy-to-read font, the other in a difficult-to-read font.
Both groups understood the instructions perfectly. Participants who had the easy-to-read instructions thought the exercise would be easy to do. The ones with the harder-to-read instructions expected the exercise would be considerably more difficult.
With other experiments, the researchers extended this echo effect beyond visual difficulty. They summarized their conclusions in the title of their paper: “If It’s Hard to Read, It’s Hard to Do.”
If your words and your writing are hard to understand, your prospect’s going to feel what you’re asking him to do will be hard, as well.
But, if you think about it, you’re also asking your prospect to believe you. Which brings up the question …
Who are you going to believe?
And, that brings up the third reason to write the way you talk: Believability. One of the most important reasons to keep your writing easy-to-read is that it’s more believable than complex writing.
Let’s say you read something with long words, long sentences, and a complex structure. Without realizing it, you wonder, “What’s he trying to hide?”
On the other hand, when you read something direct and clearly stated — you feel in your gut, “This guy’s being straight with me.”
Easy-to-read … not simplistic!
All too often, writers will question the need to keep their writing easy-to-read. They worry that easy-to-read reflects a simple mind and simple ideas.
Far from the truth.
Straightforward writing is not immature. It’s not dumbed down. It’s writing that recognizes your reader’s understanding is more important than the writer’s ego.
My favorite novel is Cormack McCarthy’s The Road. It’s written at a level a fourth or fifth grader could read. If you’ve read it, though, you know it’s anything but simple. However, it does have simplicity of diction.
Let’s make this distinction. “Simplistic writing” lacks depth. It lacks substance, fresh ideas, and the ability to compel your reader forward.
But, simplicity of diction is exactly the type of writing you need to use to be a successful copywriter. It communicates without trying to impress. It may sound simple … but does not simplify ideas.
What does this all mean for your prospect? And, for your copywriting success?
I can get it done quickly.
This will take too much time and effort.
What I’m being asked to do will be easy.
Oh, man, it’s going to be hard.
I can believe this!
What’s he trying to hide?
I’m going to do what he asks.
The waste basket for this.
“Write like you talk” is way more than some rule you’ve been told to follow. It’s the soul of your copywriting success.
How do you know your writing is easy-to-read? And, what can you do to make it even better?
We’ll be covering this over the next few weeks.
Tell me what you think …
What are your thoughts about writing easy-to-read copy? Is it easy for you? Is it hard? What strategies do you use to make sure your writing is easy-to-read?
You can tell us in the comment section. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
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