Improve Your Writing with a Conversation Tone

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Improve Your Writing with a Conversation Tone

by Victor Stachura

January 8th, 2008

Pick the Brain blog

I came across this little piece of advice and found it very interesting. When I first started posting on Objectivist forums, I was criticized by certain people for writing in a conversational tone. Although I did not alter my style over time (I am me, after all), this has stayed in the back of my mind. It is good to see a discussion on the merits of conversational style from the other end, from someone who thinks it is a virtue in serious work. I think it all boils down to how much value a writer places on readibility. Does he want his work to be easily read or does he want his reader to work at comprehension? Does he need to impress the reader with his erudition? I can imagine several cases for using a particular style that sacrifices readibility. Below is a quote from the article for those who want to improve the readibility of their work.

1. Write using a conversational tone. Your brain thinks it's in a real conversation when reading material written in a conversational tone. What happens during a conversation? Your brain pays attention and your remember more of the material. Researchers aren't sure exactly why it works, but you can read more about it in e-learning and the Science of Instruction. Their research shows your brain pays attention to conversations and improves your ability to remember the topic. I guess, if you're involved in a conversation your brain thinks it may have to respond to that conversation and should pay attention.

2. Your tone tells a lot about you. Here's something to think about. If you're using formal language in a lecture, article or book, are you more concerned about you and how you sound to the audience? Or are you truly concerned about your audience and what they're going to get out of your presentation. If you're truly concerned about your readers, then use a conversational tone and help them learn your material. It's all about your readers and not about you, the author.

3. Write the way you talk. Yes, ignore what you may have learned about writing and write the way you talk to help your readers understand your material. What this really means is to write in a direct and friendly manner – it's more appealing (especially to your brain) than formal writing.

4. Use the Readability Index Calculator to improve the understandability of your writing. This calculator implements the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease criteria for determining how easy a passage is to read. Magazines such as the Reader's Digest are more easily read and score higher on the test (65), while other magazines have dramatically lower scores and are difficult to read. Most paragraphs in this post scored about around a 45 – not bad, but maybe I need to loosen up a bit. I'm not gong to discuss the specifics of the Reading Ease criteria, but suggest using it as a quick verification of the level of your writing.

5. It's ok to use contractions. Contrary to what you may have learned, it's ok to use contractions – you'll grab your reader's attention and engage their brain without them even knowing it.

6. "And" and "But" can be used at the beginning of a sentence. But that's not what you've been taught, is it? When we talk we occasionally start sentences with 'and' and 'but'. If you want your writing to sound authentic, the you should do the same.

7. Pass the "read out loud" test. If you're unsure about your writing, then read it out loud to yourself. If it doesn't sound right, then change it. Reading your writing out loud gives it new meaning and will prevent your brain from filling in any gaps between words.

8. Don't use jargon, buzzwords or obscure words. If you're really concerned about your readers, don't use words that show off your intelligence. Your writing is all about the reader and not about you.

9. Remain organized and don't ramble. Conversational writing does not give you permission to write like you're sending a text message or to ramble using long sentences. In fact, I probably reached a limit in my previous sentence, but I wanted to make a point. Your writing will still need to be well organized and have thoughts that flow together.

Probably the most important thing given here is the tool:

Readability index calculator

I have highlighted it to make it easy to use.


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This is cool. I always wondered if someone had made one of these things.

So, without further ado I took my OL essay "Mortality and the Rituals of Infinity" and ran it through the grinder.

Grade level recognition: 12

Readability: 46

I'm not sure if that's good or bad, now that I think of it...

Who's plugging in a Perigo essay...c'mon, c'mon.

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This is a cool little article. Thanks, Mike, for posting it. When in college, I did the same of reading my papers out loud and it does help. I also found -- although people may look at you funny if someone is within earshot -- if I am working on a question or problem that I am trying to find an answer to, that thinking out loud and verbalizing it out loud while walking around the room helps tremendously in my own comprehension and finding an answer. Of course, I wouldn't do the latter with people around. You'd get a quick, damn, what's-up-with-her look. It's always done when I am alone. I also found when I am reading something that is very complex such as a medical book or some of my law books that reading the material out loud and working on my own comprehension by verbalizing it out loud while I am walking or pacing in a room helps tremendously as well. And it seems my track record of ease of comprehension when I do this is 100 fold and I pick it up and remember it very quickly and retain it. It can be quite exihilirating, especially if it is extremely complex and the ease you're able to grasp it in. There is no doubt a correlation between action and stimulation while the mind is working on a problem and trying to find a solution and the ease in which it can be attained in this manner as well as action, sensory stimulation, verbalization and trying to find solutions to a problem. I'm not sure if there have been any studies regarding it but it no doubt works. I've recommended this to a few friends that were struggling in college that were taking courses that they were having difficulties with, one was a math class and the other was organic chemistry and they both said it worked very well for them as well as the other little study techniques that I had found worked well for me. I've been doing these things for as long as I can remember, especially through my teen years and through college, in order to further stimulate my mind so I am able to comprehend and come to answers to those questions or problems with relative ease. For me, it works more so rather than sitting at a desk in complete silence studying. I guess you can say I love being stimulated, verbalizing it, and thinking at the same time. Also working on problems while exercising is also very beneficial for me in so many ways. I hope what I just said made sense. LOL

I very much enjoyed the article, very interesting. Again thanks for posting it. I tried my own readability calculator on some of the things I have written here on OL with varying degrees of ease of readability and comprehension. The last one I just did was the article I wrote "If you're not thinking independently, you're not thinking" and it came back at:

Grade level: 9

Reading Ease Score: 55

A few others that I ran in it came back more difficult to read and higher grade level, but hey, it depends on what the material is that you're writing about. But still, very interesting.

Edited by CNA
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