It’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it. The message is in the medium.
Think about all the different ways people communicate. Some folks are concise and straightforward. Others layer on the details with lavishly worded eloquence. Others go Socratic and communicate by questioning.
You can hammer your words with a barrage of short sentences. You can play with word order, shuffling sentences so that the most important words come first à la Yodaspeak.
All of these choices relate to syntax – patterns of language – one of the two key elements that shape a defined tone of voice within your copywriting. (The other mover and shaker is diction. We’ll write about it in an upcoming post.)
Short vs. Long
Decide upon the general length of your sentences and paragraphs.
Short sentences are better for conveying speed, energy, action. A modern or edgy tone frequently tends toward short and sharp. This copywriting style can also come across as more youthful.
Imply maturity, heritage or classicism with long sentences. Long sentences usually possess a more complicated syntax – multiple clauses, thoughts that are modified and qualified. They showcase a depth of thought. Longer sentences can convey a sense of encyclopedic knowledge.
The emotional character of longer sentences is more peaceful, serene, slow. An easy way to see the contrast : a lot of spa copywriting is of the long, flowing variety whereas successful fitness-oriented copy tends to be short and punchy.
The observations above also apply to paragraph length. In addition, you may combine lengths in pre-defined patterns. Say you’re writing about exercise equipment. You want to convey energy, but you also want to communicate a sense of expertise and scientific backing. In this case, you can develop a tone that leads with a large volume of short sentences and paragraphs but then concludes with a leviathan-sized paragraph of hefty sentences at the end of each unit (a ‘unit’ being an webpage, ad, brochure page, etc.).
Sentences occur in four basic types:
Each imparts a different sense to your writing. As with sentence length, you can choose one type to predominate in your copywriting or you can skillfully combine multiple types in set patterns.
Interrogative sentences, AKA questions, can be useful in creating a sense of intrigue or mystery.
Where in the world can you wake up to views like this every day of your life?
Do you know where to find the best Jägerbombs in New York City?
WHO’S YOUR DADDY? Call Seminal Paternity Testing.
An interrogative-heavy tone can also be used in a problem-based marketing approach, planting seeds of worry in your reader.
Is your home killing your children? Are toxic fumes choking the life out of them while they sleep?
Questions can add dynamism to your tone because they require a bit of action from your reader; they set the reader’s gears in motion.
What do you REALLY want to be when you grow up?
Known in plain English as ‘commands’, imperative sentences are verb driven and therefore another great tool for energetic copy:
Bite into the juiciness of a Lush Farms apple. Smash it against your chest and let the juices gush!
Spank the monkey on your back. Dominate the life of the party with Mixed Metaphor Solutions.
Shove that tampon in like the strong, confident woman you are!
Many copywriters find imperative sentences the easiest to use in order to influence the reader. Employ them to engage your audience, to put them in a moment, to incite them to feel a certain way or imagine a scene.
Beware though that imperative sentences can easily veer into the territory of advertising cliché. They’re not always the best choices for standing out from the crowd. But hey, there’s a reason copywriters use them so much. They can work wonders. Use them but keep in mind both their strengths and weaknesses.
Declarative sentences, or statements, give a sense of authority. Simple statements provide a feeling of mastery, that you know what you are talking about. Or that what you say is true. If you want an informational tone, declarative sentences are the ideal choice.
Our laundry detergent removes urine stains from neckties 8 times better than the leading laundry detergent.
Declarative sentences can also feel more neutral that a questioning or commanding tone. They can help build credibility.
Sentence fragments rule the world of contemporary, flashy, avant-garde brands. You will find them often in fashion and lifestyle brands aiming for a modern feel, but they can be powerfully applied in a number of industries. Fragments are strong communicators – great for conveying imagery, flashing a picture into the mind’s eye.
Silk on skin.
The call of a bird through a jungle canopy.
Nipples. CK Duo.
They are great for a teaser effect. Questions can accomplish the same goal, but a fragment can often do the job with a more upscale or sophisticated flair.
Another major stylistic reason for fragments: they help you to sound more colloquial. Want to add a casual air to your copy? Try some simple fragments.
Headaches. Migraines. Uggggh.
Sentence length and sentence category are the two biggest considerations in defining your tone’s sentence patterns, but an infinite number of other pattern elements exist.
Perhaps your tone will rely on frequent use of gerunds (verbs turned into -ing nouns) as the subjects of your sentences:
Listening is the first step of our journey.
Caring is the Omega Home Foreclosures’ way.
Maybe your signature is a fragment-style topic sentence followed by descriptive copy:
The arrival. A bamboo lined pathway guides you into the heart of our sanctuary. A mountain breeze caresses your skin. Scents of ylang-ylang fill the lobby. Welcome to Panda Garden Nudist Resort and Restaurant.
Your tone may employ a number of prepositional-phrase fragment sentences:
Into the wild.
Across the sands.
From Prussia with lust.
One of your tone’s signatures may be questions flowing from a subordinate clause:
When the world smacks you upside the head with lemons, what do you do to get back at it?
Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. You get the picture, right? The patterns are limited only by the capacity of your brain. Explore and settle upon your brand’s signatures.
Own Your Voice
Your voice is a cornerstone of your brand. It must be recognizably you. Define your syntax, and apply it consistently.
Some brands are very formulaic in their copy – e.g., every headline must be a question; the first paragraph is a one-sentence answer; follow by one four- to five-sentence paragraph of body copy, then an imperative call to action.
Other brands have very strong tones of voice yet a more generalized set of tone rules.
Either approach is valid. Decide what works for you. Set down some guidelines that reflect your brand’s personality. Then enjoy bringing the brand to life with your wordsmithing creativity.
Did you miss Find Your Voice – Part 1? Click here for the introduction on copywriting tone of voice.
Part 3 explores the role of diction, the words you choose to express your brand’s personality and persuade your readers that you are the brand to meet their needs. Click here to read the final tone of voice post.