Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. The naked have little or no influence.” This was in reference to the power of presenting yourself with style to stand out in the crowd.
It is apt for bloggers too. In the mass of content creators, brilliant insights still need a touch of flair to capture the attention and imagination of online readers. While form is no substitute for substance, your writing style IS what you are. It expresses your identity and makes a connection with the reader that enables influence and persuasion to happen.
Elements of blogging style
The focus of Web writing style is primarily on mechanics, which is the domain of guidelines found in the AP Style Guide for journalism, or the Yahoo Style Guide for content creators in the digital world. These are excellent references for developing consistent treatment of:
- Word choice and use of clichés, slang, jargon
- Search optimized content
- Formatting for Web readers
However, bloggers and content marketers also need to develop a personal style to stand out from the crowd. Your personal style flows from the voice and tone of your writing and how you structure your ideas. You won’t find your personal style in a guidebook. I would add to Twain’s observation by noting “the style makes the blogger – as long as it fits.” I would love to be able to wear skinny jeans, but alas, that style does not fit me.
Style is more than the clothes; it is how you wear them. So too, writing style is more than the mechanics. It is how you apply them.
In pursuit of personal style, bloggers might be tempted to accessorize writing with gaudy metaphors or splashy adjectives to create stylistic flair. Unfortunately, developing personal style is not that simple. Your style is organic to you, the writer.
While there is no clear formula for adding grace and elegance to a piece of writing, there are ways you can develop it. The best place to start is by studying devices used by graceful writers and practicing the fundamentals of clear, concise writing.
The long and short of blog writing
Short sentences are critical to successful writing for the Web. A readability formula developed by Rudolf Flesch finds the ideal sentence length for business writing is between 14-16 words. This is a good guideline for blogging. However, on occasion bloggers will want to exceed that limit to break monotony and build rhythm.
Here are some helpful guides to maintaining clarity when writing longer sentences:
Check for subject-verb agreement. This can become easily confused in longer sentences containing clauses and modifiers.
Use consistent treatment of the topic. The topic is what the sentence is about, comments on, and flows from. It is usually the subject. When the topic shifts to different places in sentences within the paragraph, it causes needless confusion. Keep them in a coherent sequence throughout.
Place information at the end of the sentence that will be developed in the next.
Use logical connectors to transition from sentences and into new paragraphs.
- Adding connectors: furthermore, and, also
- Opposing connectors: but, however
- Sequencing connectors: first, next, finally
- Magnifying connectors: even, in fact
- Concluding connectors: so, therefore
Structure coordinate series sentences so succeeding coordinates are parallel and longer than the one before it (see diagram below for an example)
The second sentence in this example moves the parallels from shorter to longer improving the rhythm and flow. Some writers would break the sentence into two rather than attempt a long, complex sentence in a blog post. If you do make this stylistic choice, I recommend using it sparingly.
Beware of mixed metaphors. A metaphor invites the reader to see a familiar thing in a new way. Similes do the same, less intensely, the like or as moderating the force of comparison. If you opt to use either, be sensitive to choosing words that carry the meaning through consistently. Watch out for “looking over” a problem in order to “handle” it correctly, and similar mixed metaphors.
Creating a personal blogging style
“Remember your primary goal as a writer is not to leave your imprint on the page,” offers Gary Provost in Make Your Words Work. “Your goal is to make the writing work. Make it do what it’s supposed to.” Many writers who write about writing say a style should be invisible. Rather than straining to make it happen, learn to write well and your style will emerge. Here are three ideas for creating your personal style:
- Master the mechanics. Learn the fundamentals of brevity and clarity as the foundation to making your writing do what it is supposed to.
- Read the masters. Make a habit of reading other writers – not only bloggers, but good copywriters and fiction writers. Studying how poets use language, structure and rhythm can give you new perspective on your writing.
- Let your personality emerge. As you continue to master the mechanics and read the masters, you will be inspired to express your voice in writing.
Bruce Lee was a model for self-expression. One of the greatest martial artists of all time, he was controversial because of his philosophy on style. He was first to merge several fighting styles into a unique hybrid.
He combined elements of Kung Fu, Jujitsu, grappling, boxing and other martial arts to create a new “style of no style” he named Jeet Kune Do. His vision was not for a new style of self-defense, but for physical self-expression.
When teaching students he told them, “Do not look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Express YOUR self.” Good advice for bloggers too.
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Before interactive marketing, there was Lester Wunderman.
He is an advertising legend who pioneered direct marketing. He defined it, named it and launched it into a new marketing discipline that transformed modern advertising. For that, he is recognized as the father of direct marketing.
His accomplishments and contributions to the marketing industry cannot be overstated. In the decades that preceded the Internet, he envisioned a degree of consumer engagement and interactivity we are realizing today.
Defining a new marketing
In the early 1960s, Wunderman conceived a new approach to what was then known as mail order marketing, or direct mail marketing. He observed a shift in consumer preference for having a personal, direct contact with the manufacturer of products, and a shift away from intermediary channels of distribution. He described this as a “system of interactive transactions that would restore a measure of dialog and human scale to the way we made, sold and bought things.”
He viewed this system as more than a direct mail channel. He began calling it direct marketing.
In a historic speech at MIT in 1967, he outlined his ideas and gave birth to a new industry. He tells the fascinating story of preparing and delivering the presentation in his book Being Direct. He made the case for a new direct marketing that is comprised of several broad-based characteristics:
- It is a strategy, not a tactic
- It is where advertising and buying become a single affair
- It eliminates intermediaries in distribution and communication channels
- It creates dialogs between buyer and seller
- It builds dialogs into enduring relationships
- It is personal, relevant, interactive and measurable
In the decades that followed, he oversaw the advent of the direct marketing industry and put these principles into practice.
Inventing new media
While working with clients whose appetite for media couldn’t be satisfied by conventional direct mail alone, Wunderman pioneered new media to reach consumers directly. Some of these innovations include:
- The now-ubiquitous magazine subscription card
- Preprinted newspaper inserts
- Inbound 800 phone numbers to sell magazine subscriptions on TV and radio
- Introduction of the ‘virtual store’
All of these were revolutionary approaches for interacting with consumers directly as they moved further upstream in the buying process. These ideas were limited only by the technology of the time. However, the concepts hold true for interactive marketing today. In his book, Wunderman said of that time:
I was certain that consumer-initiated advertising was going to work in the future as more interactive media became available.
Technology has caught up with his vision. We can now interact on the Web in many ways: websites, social media, email and mobile. In anticipation of these new media platforms, Wunderman created “The Consumer’s Communication Bill of Rights” for the second edition of his book. It offers his time-tested wisdom for online engagement.
The vision for digital marketing
Wunderman’s vision is still aspirational for interactive marketers. We have powerful new media to reach customers and prospects, but continue to work through the challenges to deliver on their expectations. His “Bill of Rights” points to many of those challenges:
- Being transparent and authentic, and letting go of controlling the message
- Capturing data that enables more relevant, valuable exchanges without invading privacy
- Understanding the acceptable frequency of communications
- Telling relevant brand stories that inform, not self-promote
- Having conversations with consumers that establish respect and likeability
- Building relationships through meaningful engagement, not wasted activities
- Making it easy for consumers to interact and buy
- Keeping communications succinct
These are worthy pursuits rooted in the fundamentals learned in the decades that came before. As he has throughout his professional life, Lester Wunderman has provided a blueprint. His vision for creating the direct marketing industry extends all the way into today’s digital world.