Formal has its place. (You should have seen some of the research papers I turned in when I went back to college in my late 40s.) But in a blog, “formal” writing can come off as stilted or forced.
How would that first paragraph have struck you if it had read like this:
If you cannot seem to connect with your readers, perhaps you are too formal.
A little stilted, huh? Maybe a wee bit forced?
As I noted in my Write A Blog People Will Read course, far too many blog authors catapult back to ninth-grade English class when they sit down to write. Rather than think, “How can I tell a story that resonates with readers?” they seem to be thinking (at least subconsciously), “What does the teacher want to read?”
To be clear: I don’t mean that writers should use incorrect English. What they should do is remember that voice matters.
Obviously “voice” and “formal vs. informal” are topics too broad to be covered in a single blog post. Entire books (and courses!) are written about these issues.
Write the way you talk
For this post I’ll use just one example: contractions. Re-read that first paragraph. You should hear me talking to you.
Now re-read the third paragraph. You probably hear Thurston Howell III talking to you.
The average English speaker uses contractions. Lots of them. While I will cop to saying “cannot,” “would not” and the like, it’s usually in a very specific – and usually formal – setting. But I don’t talk to friends and family in this way:
- Joe, I would not do that if I were you.
- Dad, do not be mad that I crashed your car.
- Kathy, would it not be wonderful if I could visit this fall?
- Mom, I have never tasted gravy this good.
Unless you’re hanging out with the Howells of this world, then you probably don’t talk like this, either. So don’t speak that way to your readers. They’re your friends, remember? Virtually speaking.
To recap: Avoiding contractions is the sort of thing up with which readers cannot put. (And yes, I will probably discuss prepositions another time.)