Using Plain Talk: A Discussion Of Chinese
I'm going to give you the most important tip I can give you right here, right now. Ready? Here it is: Make sure your writing style is simple and conversational. Don't write like an English professor; write the way you talk. This is the biggest trap of all for most people - they start writing and all of a sudden these big, fancy, flowery words start coming out all over the place. They use words that they wouldn't normally use in everyday conversation in a million years. Complicated sentences and weird words make it sound like you're intelligent, true enough. But on the other hand, they don't sell.
Rosser Reeves, one of the great advertising minds of the mid 1900s said it best, I think, when talking about many advertising copywriters' fondness for writing flowery prose instead of straightforward copy that sells. Reeves gives this little analogy: "Let's say you've got $1,000,000 tied up in your little company and suddenly, for reasons unknown to you, your advertising isn't working and your sales are going down. And everything depends on it. Your future depends on it, your family's future depends on it. Other people's family's futures depend on it. I walk into this office and sit down in this chair to write your advertising. Now, what do you want from me? Fine writing? Do you want masterpieces? Do you want glowing things that can be framed by copywriters? Or do you want to see the #!@%$*&#@! sales curve stop going down and start moving up?" I couldn't have said it better if I tried. Do you want the #!@%$*&#@! sales curve to stop going down and start moving up? That's the bottom line here. And in advertising, you've got to divorce yourself from the idea drilled into your head in high school English class about writing. Go against everything you learned and make your writing style simple and conversational.
To give you a better idea about writing in simple terms, let me take you on what might at first seem like a strange tangent, but you'll soon find out will be very helpful in your learning to use plain talk. I want to teach you a little bit about how to speak Chinese. That's right, Chinese. Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world, right? Well, that's right and wrong. It's true learning to read and write all those funky little Chinese characters is very difficult. But speaking Chinese, learning how to say the words and sentences on the other hand, is actually surprisingly easy. Why am I telling you this? Because the very elements of Chinese that make it easy to learn to speak - once you understand them - will help you become a better writer of English. If you could apply the Chinese way of speaking to our own language then - without much effort - you could form the habit of simple, clear, picturesque talk and, ultimately, your simple, Chinese-like writing will help you make more money.
We'll get into that tomorrow.
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