Verbal style includes word choice, syntax, grammar, and punctuation. The way you handle these little details can have a big impact on your writing and the overall impression you make on your customers.
You know it’s important to convey professionalism and give little room for negative perception. But did you know that poor use of verbal style can actually slow down your message and make people’s brains work harder? You might think that making someone think isn’t such bad thing, but people are besieged with hundreds of messages a day, most of them manipulative and money-hungry. If these people can’t assess your message in a split second, they’ll move on to something clearer.
Keeping the following simple principles in mind will improve your verbal style and add clarity to your writing.
1. ALL CAPS IS SLOWER TO READ.
Don’t overuse uppercase in your copy. It has become a standard in headlines and even in longer messages. BUT WHEN WILL THE MADNESS END? Did you know that it’s actually FASTER to read LOWERCASE? When speed is essential, such as in signage, you actually create LESS WORK FOR THE BRAIN by letting capitals occur as they naturally would. Plus, seeing a capital letter next to an end mark, like a period or exclamation point, is CONFUSING. Is this sentence STARTING or ENDING? Plus, CAPITAL LETTERS MEAN YELLING! Sorry, I think we made our point.
2. Over-Capitalizing Slows You Down
There’s simply no reason to capitalize everything. A lot of marketing materials overuse title case, but title case should be reserved for proper names and actual titles. When you turn everything into a title to make words seem important, you actually do the opposite and degrade the communication altogether. Then, like the boy who cried wolf, when you actually need to capitalize something, like “The Fed,” no one knows if you’re talking about The Federal Reserve or those people who are not starving. The time it takes the brain to pick apart and process that string of words kills your message. Headings are often mistakenly capitalized. Unless you’re stating the official title of a chapter, leave headings in sentence case — capitalize the first word only.
3. Punctuation breaks headings. Don’t do it.
Most headlines and headings don’t require any kind of punctuation, especially when they don’t include a verb. One-liners are often more memorable when you can process them all at once without the interruption that punctuation creates. Of course, in body copy, punctuation should be used according to standard English conventions.
4. Grammatical errors are an automatic ‘C-‘
Everyone makes mistakes, but that’s why we have spellcheck. Use it. Unfortunately, errors do happen, and when they do, it’s hard for someone to believe you’re a professional running a legitimate operation. At best, they think you’re too cheap to hire a copyeditor and too busy to do it yourself. It should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Re-read your emails, edit your web copy, and triple check everything you print.
Mastering the English language takes years of immersion and education. Presenting yourself as a competent professional just takes a little extra care. These tips for verbal style will get you far. When you need further expertise, call a professional copywriter.
Do you have some questions about verbal style? We’d love to answer them! Add them in the comments below.