When I was young I was a prolific letter writer – I had an American pen-friend and a French pen-friend, and my Mum stood over me shortly after Christmas and birthdays, insisting that I wrote to say ‘thank you’ to my aunts and uncles who had sent gifts to me. I carried on with this discipline when I left home and Mum would have been on my case if I didn’t send her at least one letter a week! Of course, this was long before email became the way to communicate.

As I got older my school friends scattered far and wide and I made friends in the various places I lived; writing letters was the only way to keep in touch that I could afford – phone calls were much too expensive for my meagre salary! The feedback I got from people was often ‘I love getting your letters, it’s just like listening to you talk!’ This led me to believe that ‘writing the way you talk’ is a good thing – but is it?

The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’!

Writing in a way that gives people the impression that you’re talking directly to them is definitely a good thing. It helps to make a connection and engages them to want to ‘hear’ more.

Writing exactly as you talk is not a good thing. We talk in fragmented sentences, stopping in the middle of a thought, adding something, changing subjects, interrupting each other and using incorrect grammatical structure generally. If you wrote like that people would never be able to follow what you were on about. When you’re speaking to someone they have more to go on to help them understand than just the words. Your tone of voice helps people to follow your message and, if you’re face to face, your face and body also help to get that message across – written copy is totally reliant on the words alone.

What is the point of all this?

When you write something read it aloud – it should be easy to read and easy to understand. If you find yourself running out of breath in mid-sentence or struggling to get through a sentence or paragraph, it’s time to do some editing.

Writing so it ‘sounds like you’re speaking’ is not ‘writing like you talk’. It is about writing copy that has life and energy.
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