Language in the News, Recommended Reading, Storytelling

Surprising Strategies? Not if you’re a Linguist

In school, my classmates and I came up with all sorts of answers to explain what it is that we studied. One of my classmates liked to say we studied “what you didn’t know you knew.” Essentially, we were taught to be more aware of what language does, to recognize when language was being used to accomplish something, and to ask why: why are certain aspects of language were effective, or confusing, or problematic.

Today’s post is once again from my “Interesting Stuff” folder. The article from the Buffer Blog titled, “8 Simple Copywriting Tips, Backed by Science” talks about ways to make a blog post, or any written copy (articles, slideshows, Buzzfeed lists, etc) more interesting and more likely to be read and shared.

While reading these, I immediately began to think of ways that my linguistics knowledge could help explain why these tips seemed to work. So here are my takes on why these tips are effective.


Buffer Tip # 2: Use numbers

 For this one, I’m only going to focus on the part that says that, “higher numbered lists (e.g. “100 ways to…”) were shared more…”

This one falls under the “more aware of language category.” Whenever I’ve come across higher numbered lists, the information under each number tends to be one or two sentences or even just the list item itself, whereas if the list number is lower (under 10 or so) then the info under each list item is longer, and my patience tends to wane pretty quickly.


Buffer Tip # 3: Choose the right words

The research they site broke down the list into two categories: words popular in blog posts and words popular in tweets. I’m going to focus on the first.

The 7 words popular in blog posts break down into three categories:

  • Sounding Smart (smart, surprising)
  • Sounding Credible (science, history)
  • Fear (hacks, huge/big, critical)

When blog posts use these words, they come across as informed and informative. People who read them are likely to learn something reliable and useful, and by sharing these, those qualities are attributed to the sharer as well. Everybody wins!


Buffer Tip # 5: Turning Announcements into Stories

The blog post points out that when we hear stories, we experience the same emotions that the speaker did when the situation happened to them. It’s a powerful way to connect with others.

Stories are a part of what it means to be human. Stories can entertain, or they can instruct. What’s fascinating to realize is that we hear stories all the time (transcribing hours and hours of conversation will make that very clear), and we are so familiar with their structure that when we hear them we shift out of the back-and-forth rhythm of the conversation and give the storyteller the floor for extended lengths of time with minimal interruptions.

Consciously tapping into something so prevalent? Seems like such an obviously great idea!


Buffer Tip # 6: Know your audience, and write just for them

This is the concept of “Audience Design.” The blog mentions that, “research has actually shown that different audiences will respond better to different messages.

Want to know something fun?

You already know this, and you do it all the time.

Don’t believe me?

Think about how you talk to your mom (or dad) about your social life. What details do you share? What kind of advice do you ask for?

Got that?

Now, same topic (social life), think about how you talk to your best friend. Is it different than the way you talk to your parent? I’m betting it probably is.

Once you recognize that you’re already aware of how to craft different messages for different people, it doesn’t seem so daunting.


Buffer Tip # 8: Use more verbs and less nouns

Whether it’s tweets or college recommendation letters, adverbs and verbs were considered more effective than nouns or adjectives. But why?

This goes back to my acting days. When looking at a script, we were encouraged to mark up the text with verbs rather than adjectives. The reason? Nouns and adjectives talk about things, but they don’t inspire action. Verbs and adverbs give us something to DO and tell us how to do it. Action mean changes, from what was to what could be.  Nouns and adjectives describe, action inspires.


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