The Persuasive Power Of Small Words (Part 1)
This is the first of a two-part series analyzing the importance of word choice. Part one: how much is too much? Part two (next week): a fight-to-the-death between positive and negative words. Only one will remain. Reading the Function blog for the next two weeks will change your life.
I was in the middle of writing a sentence for a client of a few weeks back and a remarkable occurrence occurred. Erm, I mean, a wonderful happenstance happened. A happening happenstance happened to happen.
Sorry, I’m off track. OR AM I? I’ll get back to the aforementioned sentence in a minute, but first, let’s define the importance of specific words and their effect on sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books and memoirs. Every word you write has two roles: to provide information and invoke a reaction. The first begets the second: good information garners appreciation, and the main reaction we want is people appreciating our work. This reaction is achieved more often with content that’s easy to read.
So, small words lead to small sentences lead to efficiently tight sentences and consumable content, right? Therefore choosing appropriately simple words accomplishes our primary goal of reaching our readers.
Short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.
This quote is from Henneke at Copyblogger, who also says that short, succinct sentences and the words they’re made of will, if they directly contribute to the primary topic of your post, invite organic traffic because of how easy they are to read. Small, appropriate words will keep your articles short and encourage you to explain your points quicker and with greater simplicity.
The key word here is ‘appropriate’, as in, suitable for the message you wish to deliver. Let’s switch gears.
Are You Sacrificing Style For Brevity?
All three sentences I used to introduce today’s post are dumb; the words I chose were dumb, clumped together they look dumb and they sound dumber when reading them out loud. They’re so dumb, in fact, that they work perfectly. I could have used shorter words and got to the point a lot quicker, but as often as copywriting hinges on the information you’re explaining, it’s the style in which you deliver your words that separates the good writers from the great.
I used happening happenstance and occurring occurrence because it made me chuckle. These specific words set the tone for this post and they directly contribute to the main topic in this mini-series: word choice. My main goal is always to draw readers into the article. Mission accomplished! You’re still here, right?
Sure, my intro is a semi-satirical look at this important element of copywriting and it uses goofy jargon; but in this case that’s the point. These sentences support my topic and nicely demonstrate just how important it is to (read the following in a Clint Eastwood voice) choose your words carefully.
So here’s the rub: just because you can shorten a word or swap it out entirely doesn’t mean you automatically should. People aren’t dumb, they know how to read. You don’t need to scrap every word that has more than two syllables because you’re trying to keep readers engaged – you simply need to exercise your ability to choose.
Ask yourself this: what message are you trying to convey? If it’s necessary to your post to use gaff-rigged windjammer to properly describe your weekend, then use gaff-rigged windjammer! Otherwise just say sailboat. That works nice too.
The Power Of Words
I like words. I write and say a lot of them every day. To me, their power is utterly fascinating, for to understand words is to understand language and the nature of communication itself. Words can sustain a society, inspire goodness, and touch the heart in unique, timeless ways. Words can also incite riots, destroy families and topple all incarnations of positive influence.
While the two sections of this post may seem to contradict eachother (short words vs efficient words), the key point is this: use words that you feel are necessary for effective communication of your idea and cut out the excess baloney. Find your balance. If your writing is bolstered by your personality and unique style then let that voice shine through (I just used the word ‘baloney’, and I’m cool with it). Small words work when they work.
Next week, the second installment in this series will take a closer look at the emotional states of individual words, plus a super fun experiment.
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Photo Cred: Flickr user ericmay