Whether you’re giving a speech or writing a memo, email, or book, remember that both the words you use and how you arrange them (your writing style) have a powerful effect on your listening or reading audience.
I recently attended a presentation. The subject was interesting, and the slides provided vivid illustrations of the narrative, but the presentation, read from a script, was boring. I got up more than once to shake off the weariness descending over me.
Both during and after the presentation, I tried to figure out what weakened it. Part of the problem stemmed from the presenter’s monotonal voice. She read the material without emphasis or emotion. This would make the most exciting text in the world uninteresting.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most exciting text. Fact followed fact followed fact in a slow march. Each sentence seemed very much like the preceding one. Overall, the presentation had the effect of sitting in a rocking chair and slowly falling asleep.
How to Bore People With Your Writing Style
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they write is to not vary the length of the sentences.
“I’m George Henry. I’m a consultant. I fix your businesses.”
Some authors of detective novels deliberately use this style—sparingly. “I’m Mark Schaeffer. Yesterday, I killed my wife.”
I would recommend that you leave that kind of writing to the pros.
George Henry, who clearly is not a pro, has probably lost his audience halfway through the second sentence.
Variety is the Spice of Reading and Listening
Vary the length of your sentences. If you exercise, think of how you start off at a slow pace on a treadmill and increase it until you’re going full out. Imagine the varying ways a horse moves: canter, trot, gallop. Changes in rhythm create stimulation.
Also be careful to vary the order of words. Don’t always use the unadorned subject-verb format: “He did.” “She said.” Alternatives might be, “After a painfully long interval, he forced out an awkward apology.” or “In the slowly gathering twilight, she felt a deepening sense of unease.”
The Purdue University Online Writing Lab has some more specific illustrations regarding sentence length and varying the format.
Don’t write a sentence so long that the listener or reader has forgotten the beginning by the time they reach the end.
The Power of Word Placement
Skilled writers often save their most dramatic word for the end of a sentence and/or paragraph. This is sometimes known as the power spot.
“Your product launch may fail if you don’t carefully choose your target audience.”
“If you don’t carefully choose your target audience, your product launch may fail.”
The second sentence emphasizes the word, “fail,” a word associated with pain. Because readers will want to know how to reduce or eliminate pain, they will continue reading.
When You Finish Writing, Proofread
Read what you’ve written both aloud and to yourself. Reading to yourself helps you find typos and other errors. You will also probably catch boring passages, but the best way to discover these is to read aloud.
You may wonder why this is important for a written piece. Remember that when people read, they hear what they are reading. When you read something aloud, you, too, will hear it, and you’ll recognize when a sentence sounds confusing, convoluted, or boring.
If you can, read the piece (no, not a full-length book) to someone else. Being unattached to your work, they may catch more than you do.
This may all sound like a lot of work, but you sharpen your writing skills with every devoted effort you make. If this positive reward doesn’t motivate you, imagine this scenario:
Your colleague or employee opens his or her email and thinks, “Oh, no, another boring memo from Karla.”
Here are some additional writing suggestions from Grammarly.
Consider the myriad ways in which we can become distracted when reading and make an effort to keep your writing style interesting.
Get additional tips on writing from my book, 52 Writing Tips: Fast and Easy Ways to Polish Your Writing. Order in our webstore.