You and I may not aspire to write great books or make great speeches. But almost all of us want something to happen when we write or speak. And, the more we tailor our words for the ears of readers and listeners, the greater our chances of getting the results we want.
By writing for the ear, I mean that spoken words can have more power than written words. After all, when we have important messages, we prefer to deliver them verbally and personally, rather than by sending a written message.
Of course, it’s not practical or possible to deliver every message verbally. But, if we can capture some of the nuances of the spoken word we can increase the power of our messages. When we write for the ear, our writing undergoes some subtle but important changes. Our words, sentences, and paragraphs change in several important ways.
Consider the number of pauses that occur when we speak. Most of us pause often, more often than when we write. To capture those pauses, use commas or one of the other ‘slowing’ punctuation marks, such as colons and semicolons.
Writing for the ear also means shorter sentences. And even fragments of sentences. As you can imagine, speech tends to greater spontaneity than written expression, which means shorter sentences and more fragments.
Many of the same principles hold when we make formal speeches or presentations. Especially if we speak from prepared notes.
Whatever we say, when we speak publicly, has to go in through listeners’ ears. And so, if you’ll allow me to belabor the obvious, we need to write speeches for listeners’ ears, not our mouths.
You can call on many quick and easy techniques. For example, use short words whenever possible. Words such as ‘many’ rather than ‘numerous’; ‘use’ rather than ‘utilize’; and ‘need’ rather than ‘require’.
You can also speak for the ear by using common words rather than jargon or technical words. Step back from your speech, after writing it, and ask yourself if you use words that a child will understand.
We also want vivid words, words that fire up our imagination, that paint new images on the canvases of readers’ minds. Descriptive words that convey action and emotion, words that drive ideas into our heads.
Use active verbs and not passive verbs. Banish words like ‘is’, and ‘are’. Also, check for the word ‘being’ and rewrite to get rid of it. Bring in verbs that do something.
Now that you’ve got the words you want, put them into short sentences. One short sentence. Followed by another short sentence. But, every once in while add a longer sentence for variety and to reduce the chances of boring your audience. And, keep the ideas simple within those long sentences.
I’m biased, I know. After spending the better part of a decade writing and reading radio news copy, I think it’s a good idea to write for the ear.
Try it for yourself. Write something, read it out loud, and ask yourself about the effect it’s likely to have on readers. Re-write as necessary, and read it aloud again. Repeat the process a few times. By the time you finish you should have a well-crafted piece of writing, even if no one ever reads it aloud or hears it spoken.
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