When you write
persuasive pieces such as flyers, brochures,
proposals, sales letters, and presentations, it is not
enough simply to state facts in plain, reliable prose.
You need to engage the reader to inspire a positive response.
You need to add zing.
Here are 10 ways
to add zing to your writing. Choose one and try
it in your next persuasive document.
Focus on you, the reader.
When you use you, you immediately engage the
reader. Notice the difference between these
two letter openers:
My name is Carla Gomes, and I am the
new event-planning specialist at Westwood Catering.
When it comes to your special event,
you want it to be a perfect experience—and a
Review your pieces. Do they focus on I the writer,
or you the reader?
Connect on a human level.
Use I or we rather than “XYZ Corp.”
Companies do not communicate enthusiastically—people
Which of these is more
Look for places to add I, we, and you
to enliven a message.
Ask an engaging question.
Like you, engaging questions draw in the reader.
Here are questions from two website home pages:
When readers answer yes
to the question posed, they are hooked.
Look for an opportunity to pose a thought-provoking question—using
the word you or your—at the beginning
of a presentation or document. Use it to win the interest
of your reader or listener right from the start.
Stories bring data, facts, and suggestions to life.
People remember stories and relate to the characters in
I recently created “A
Tale of 101 Emails” in PowerPoint to illustrate
how one email can snowball into many. Rather than saying
simply “We send too much pointless email,”
the tale absorbs the audience and inspires them to think
about the part they play in the ongoing saga of too much
Stories need a context. If you begin a business letter
or article with a story, your readers may become frustrated,
asking themselves, “What is this about?”
For example, if you wanted
readers to contribute financially to your historical society,
it would be risky to start with a story out of context.
You might instead start with a question: “How would
you feel if our history vanished?” or “Do
you know the story of the ‘Gig’ in ‘Gig
Harbor’?” Questions like these can be an effective
prelude to a story.
Use a story in place of an example or statistic in a presentation,
proposal, or article. If possible, use you to
place your reader in the story.
Give readers something of value, and they will keep reading.
Share an appealing quotation, a surprising statistic,
or tips like the ones you are reading now—things
your readers can use. Do not withhold information for
fear of “giving away the store.” When readers
or listeners get something of value, they stay tuned for
In your next marketing piece, proposal, or solicitation,
give your reader something special such as a table of
comparative data, a recipe, or a list of relevant tips.
Write in short chunks of text.
Long paragraphs have no pizzazz. Although they
may be a delight to travel through when reading for pleasure,
long paragraphs plod along in business writing. Short
paragraphs burst with energy.
Action Step: Break up one long paragraph into
short paragraphs or bullet points.
Use an informal tone.
Formality is suitable in some documents, but formal writing
doesn’t grab readers. If you want excitement
in your message, use a less formal tone. Compare the following
paragraphs. One of them was used by Westin Vacation Services
in a solicitation.
You are aware of the advantages of
a great vacation. A vacation provides the opportunity
to modify your normal routine and subsequently to
return from your journey refreshed and enriched. Moreover,
there is not a better location to accomplish that
revitalization than on the island of Maui as a guest
of the Westin Hotel.
You know what a great vacation is
all about. It’s a chance to break from your
normal routine and return home refreshed and enriched.
And there is no better place to do that than on Maui
Of course, Westin used
the second example.
Informal writing typically uses short, crisp sentences.
They may begin with conjunctions such as and
and but, and they often include contractions.
They also have simple words such as know rather
than be cognizant and do rather than
Action Step: To
add energy, look for ways to make your messages less formal.
Use crisp words—not thick phrases.
Thick phrases lack energy. Replace them with
concise words. For example:
in a timely manner—promptly, quick, fast
prior to that time—before
on a periodic basis—sometimes, often, regularly
Do not hesitate to call—Call anytime
Action Step: Find a thick phrase you
use often. Replace it with one precise word.
Rather than piling on data, distill it for your
readers’ use. In my newsletter, I once
wrote a 1,000-word article reporting on research on how
well people identify sarcasm, seriousness, and other emotions
in email. Then I wrote a 410-word blog post about it.
The shorter version was better: tighter, more focused,
and more enjoyable to read.
Action Step: When sharing lots of data,
ask yourself whether readers need the details. If not,
replace the numbers with a summary, story, or picture.
Add visual appeal.
Use bold type, headings, and strong graphics.
Feature snappy quotes in text boxes. Use a different color
font for a special section of text.
Action Step: Collect reports, letters,
and presentations that appeal to you visually. Then try
to duplicate at least one zingy element in your own documents.