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Sensory language

  • The power of sensory language in business writing

    The power of sensory language in business writing

    by sharon lapkin

    Is there really a place for sensory language in business writing? The answer is a super-spicy, king-size yes and here are seven reasons you should be using it. 

    1.

    Sensory language provides vivid detailed imagery.

    2.

    Research shows that the brain processes sensory language faster.

    3.

    Readers can touch, feel, taste, hear and smell your words.

    4.

    It injects personality and animation into your writing.

    5.

    Your writing is stronger and more powerful.

    6.

    Sensory language helps you captivate your audience.

    7.

    It taps into readers’ emotions and engages them on multiple levels.

    What is sensory language?

    Sensory language uses the five senses – touch, sight, sound, smell and taste – to describe objects and experiences. The information collected by your five senses helps your nervous system interpret what’s happening around you.

    Sensory words are usually descriptive (adjectives) and they’re related to emotions and feelings. 

    When you read sensory words, you feel as if you’re in the scenario being described by the writer. Walking through fresh green grass, for example, might evoke feelings of positivity and emotions such as joy and happiness. Whereas, sitting alone in an empty railway station evokes feelings of negativity and emotions like sadness.

    On the other hand, when you read about ‘walking through the grass’ or ‘sitting in a railway station,’ the bland language doesn’t evoke any feelings or emotions. It’s lifeless.

    Why does fresh language engage you more? How come you feel as if you’ve been transported into the photo on the right when you read about walking through fresh green grass? Let me explain.

    Walking through soft green grass is an example of sensory language

    What your brain does when you read sensory language

    When you read sensory words and phrases your brain processes them differently to non-sensory words. Your nervous system sends messages to your brain, which creates mental images that engage you on multiple emotional levels.

    Let’s say you read a book that’s so engaging you can’t put it down, or a magazine article that makes you angry. Chances are these stories are sprinkled with sensory language that’s making you respond emotionally.

    What we know for sure is that instead of processing the text for meaning, readers actually experience sensory language on one or more emotional levels.

    Infographic - 4 ways to improve your sensory writing

    How to use sensory language in business writing

    Including sensory language in business writing is a skill that comes with practice. Usually, it’s a combination of conversational or semiformal writing plus sensory writing that engages your readers.

    For example, on a web page where you’re writing about a new process, you might begin the discussion with a semiformal tone, then employ sensory language to describe a specific action. Perhaps you’ll even add in a sensory metaphor for variety and detail. Finally, when you summarise the topic you switch back to a semiformal business tone. Ultimately, you end up with a captivated audience because you brought the writing to life for your readers, instead of just ‘telling’ them about it.

    Narration, which uses commentary to convey a story or a concept, can be enriched by sensory language.

    You can transform a case study, a sequence of events, a descriptive narrative, as well as copywriting. Persuasive and informational writing are also more powerful when sensory words are included in the writing.

    Man up ladder writing sensory language on noticeboard

    Following is a brief list of sensory words to use in your business writing. For a more extensive list check out my Complete guide to conversational writing or click on the button below the list here for a complete PDF copy.

    Examples of sensory words

    Sight

    Bright

    Dazzling

    Blushing

    Bright

    Crinkled

    Freckled

    Sprinkled

    Glistening

    Touch

    Abrasive

    Bumpy

    Slippery

    Prickly

    Silky

    Smooth

    Tight

    Warm

    Hearing

    Bang

    Crackling

    Echoing

    Rumble

    Rustle

    Splash

    Thud

    Whisper

    Smell

    Aromic

    Bitter

    Citrus

    Earthy

    Fresh

    Mellow

    Musty

    Spicy

    Taste

    Bitter

    Bland

    Cool

    Peppery

    Sugary

    Tangy

    Tasteless

    Creamy

    Get your complete list of sensory words here

    Start schmoozing with your clients today.

    The golden rule: show not tell

    ‘Show not tell,’ is a rule in fiction writing that new authors often struggle with. When you ‘tell’ your readers what’s happening, it doesn’t engage them. But when you ‘show’ them, the story comes to life.

    Anton Chekhov was inadvertently describing the show not tell rule when he wrote ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

    But let’s be realistic. While you can’t use the show not tell technique all the time in business writing, it’s great for adding depth and flair. And even better if you can achieve a sassy balance between showing and telling.

    To sum up, sensory language is an essential component of ‘showing’ and it makes your writing realistic, immediate and engaging. But you’ll still need to do some ‘telling’ to communicate key messages, instructional copy and more formal types of business writing.

    EXAMPLES OF SHOW NOT TELL

    Tell: Sally was afraid to apply for the role when she saw the queue of applicants.

    Show: Sally trembled and put her job application back in her sachet when she saw the long queue of well-dressed people.

    Tell: With our new online platform, you can go straight to the page and type your comment.

    Show: We’ve created a bright and colourful online platform and we’d love to see you log in and leave a comment about our updated system.

    Watch this video to learn more about the show not tell technique

    Diane Callahan – Quotidian Writer (2020). How to show, not tell: The complete writing guide.

    Use strong verbs

    Are you wondering what a strong verb is? It’s when we use a stronger, more powerful, version of a basic verb. So instead of writing ‘run’, you’d write charge, race, dash or hurtle.

    Instead of ‘write’ you would record, jot, note, scrawl or take notes. And you’d write scrutinise, examine, peruse or scan instead of ‘read’.

    Once you get into the habit of using strong verbs, it’s easy – or, should I say, straightforward and breezy.

    Use a synonym finder to find powerful replacements for basic verbs. My favourite is WordHippo. It never fails to present me with interesting alternatives.

    EXAMPLES OF STRONG VERBS

    Basic: He ran towards the door.

    Strong: He dashed towards the door.

    Basic: I’d wanted to visit the building since I read about it in a magazine.

    Strong: I’d longed to visit the building since I read about it in a magazine.

    Squash those adverbs

    Not all adverbs need to be squashed – only the pesky ones ending in ‘ly’. Okay, that’s most of them. The truth is adverbs such as beautifully, lightly, wearily and firmly weaken your writing.

    For example, look at the sentence ‘He lightly wiped his desk.’ Take the adverb out and your sentence is stronger and clearer.

    Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, detested adverbs. In fact, he used only 80 ly words per 10,000 words in his novels. Look at the masterful sentences below from The Old Man and the Sea.

    ‘Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.’

    EXAMPLES: ADVERBS for the scrapheap

    The CEO angrily described the problem.

    I’m certainly going to get one of those.

    The applicant was waiting anxiously by the door.

    Use metaphors to create vivid images

    Sensory language is perfect for writing metaphors and you may not notice how often you already do it.

    Hands typing on a laptop

    Having a heated debate and the sweet smell of success are both sensory metaphors. 

    Avoid metaphors that are so overused they’ve turned into cliches. The words were music to his ears, is a good example of a copypasta keyword. Instead, put your brain to work and create original metaphors. Your readers will thank you.

    EXAMPLES OF METAPHORS

    She worked until every sentence felt like silk.

    Let’s write fresh tight copy that’s effortless to read.

    Talk about a super-spicy, sassy blog post!

    Like what you see?

    Let's talk about your content needs

    When not to use sensory language in your writing

    Be careful where you write sensory language in serious, formal content. In these contexts, it can come across as out of tune and inappropriate. 

    Also make sure you use realistic sensory language. Using descriptive phrases that depict aliens or ancient history are probably a bad idea. Keep it familiar and inside your readers’ comfort zones, and analyse their likely reactions to what you’re writing, not your own feelings.

    Use sensory language in business writing when you want your readers to imagine a scene, description, image or action. It’s a sure way to captivate them. Take care to use positive words when you want to create a bright, happy scenario. You might be surprised by the negative emotions triggered by hurried words. 

    For example, nervous can also mean excited. Break can mean both unexpected good luck and taking a rest. Clean, light and clear are ambiguous words that can undo good writing.

    The takeaway? Keep an eye on the words you use and the emotional reactions they can generate.

    What the research says about sensory writing

    In 2019, Leonie Rocek wrote her thesis around the question: Are customers  influenced by sensory descriptions on food menus in restaurants?

    It turned out that customers are influenced in a positive way by sensory descriptions of the food on offer. But it doesn’t stop there. Emotions also play a significant role.

    Man in cafe reading sensory language in menu

    Customers enjoyed the whole restaurant experience more, and they expressed a desire to return in the future. In addition, they perceived the food to be more valuable and of a higher quality.

    What we can garner from this research is that readers trust information more when it engages their senses.

    the brain lights up when processing sensory words

    In another study, researchers found that sensory words are processed faster than non-sensory words. And a year later, more research published in the Brain and Language journal suggested that ‘conceptual processing is grounded in sensory systems.’ That a specific part of the brain lights up when processing sentences that include sensory metaphors.

    *A metaphor likens one thing to another, and describes it in a way that isn’t literally true. For example, ‘drowning in a sea of grief,’ and Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage, and men and women merely players.’ We discuss the power of metaphors  in sensory writing earlier in this post.

    The takeaway

    I hope you’ll include sensory language in your business writing. When it appears on the page at the right moment, it can impact your readers and clients in powerful ways.

    The most important takeaway here is to publish original and authentic writing. Nobody wants to read fluffernutter sentences they’ve read a zillion times before. But they do want to grab a coffee, snuggle up and read inspiring original content. And you’ve got that. Right?

     Publish exceptional content and it will win you new readers and clients all day long.

    One more thing ...

    Did you know that 2.5x more people use search engines than any other platform? 

     Unlike social media, your website is real estate you own. So if you’re ranking high enough in Google, you have tremendous opportunities to get in front of masses of people. 

    I built the Textshop brand with high-ranking blog posts, and you can do it too.

    Gold stars in a pattern

    Take this blog post, for example: Does my business need a blog? It’s ranking #6 – so not quite #1, but way up there on page one for the keyword I used. 

    How to write a smashing blog post is ranking #1. That’s right, the top of Google!

    I even had a featured snippet on this post for several months (prime Google real estate).

    Now for a blog post I loved writing: How to make your writing more powerful. It’s ranking #4 on Google – so I might update this post to give it a better chance of reaching #1. (Yes, you can update blog posts and not be penalised.)

    Clearly, you don’t need to be a big company to rank highly in Google.

    If I could get Textshop there, you can get your brand up there too!

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
    textshop

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • A complete guide to conversational writing

    Girl using laptop to do conversational writing.

    A complete guide to conversational writing

    How many times have you opened a marketing email or started to read a blog post and glazed over?

    Dense, over-complicated writing is a turn-off. And when you have to wade through it for work, what do you do? Yawn? Run? Put it aside for later?

    Dreary, tepid content that reads like it was written by a robot will damage the longevity of your brand. 

    On the other hand, you could deliver bright, warm, on-brand content that makes your readers want to hang around and schmooze.

    Let me show you how!

    What is conversational writing style?

    Conversational writing is a unique style of writing that breaks those grammar rules you learnt at high school. Sentences might commence with ‘And’ or ‘But’ and you’ll collide midway through a paragraph with ‘ouch’ or ‘drat’.

    It’s fun and friendly. It’s also powerful. You can use conversational writing to connect with people on a deeply personal level. 

    Dry or overly complicated content is a one-way ticket to be scrolled past and forgotten forever. But smooth effortless-to-read writing will keep your readers reading.

    Conversational writing is the way of the future for marketing materials such as email, newsletters, websites and blogs. This is the type of content businesses are using to generate leads and create loyal customers.

    Row of people standing with arms in the air

    The point is to make every single person feel like you’re giving them special attention so they keep coming back. You want your readers to feel like you know them – and, if you’ve researched your niche brand, you do know them. 

    Plus, if you’re generating well-researched, informative content, they’re likely to share it with others.

    One of the best parts of conversational writing is that once you get the hang of it, it can be a really easy style to generate original content every time. It is, however, difficult to master at first. You’ve got to shake the thought of your high school teachers drilling into you that you need to write like the next great novelist.

    What isn't conversational writing

    It can be easy to presume a conversational writing style would be as easy as typing how you’d text your friends.

    That is NOT what we’re going for. Developing a conversational tone in your writing means creating simple, easy-to-understand content.

    Couple on laptop and mobile phone doing conversational writing

    If you were to write the way you speak, though, it could be confusing for readers who don’t know you.

    The idea is to create a style of writing that makes the reader feel like you’re addressing them directly. Think of it as getting a virtual cup of coffee with them, not addressing a crowd at a sold-out concert.

    Another thing to note is that a conversational writing style is not a one-size-fits-all.

    There’s a time and a place.

    For example, you wouldn’t put liver puns in an article about fatty liver disease. But you would put puns in a newsletter about cat sweaters. This is why conversational writing is such a valuable skill to have.

    Tips for conversational writing

    If you’re ready to develop your own conversational writing style, follow these tips and experiment and practise until you feel ready to share your work. 

    Infographic on tips for conversational writing

    Use simple words

    Conversational writing should be simple. There’s no need to whip out your thesaurus and find unique words for your content. It’s not that you’re ‘dumbing down’ the writing – you’re making it palatable for every reader.

    If you’re writing about a complex topic, such as software, think about the readers. They are likely not going to be experts on the subject, which is why they’ve come to you for answers.

    Using data to back up your facts is important, but simplify the wording for everyone to be able to understand. Adding graphs, tables and illustrations to support your writing on more complex concepts is always a good idea.

    Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re writing about microgreens and you find this definition:

    Microgreens are vegetable greens harvested just after the cotyledon leaves have developed.

     You could rewrite this conversationally as:

    Microgreens are the young seedlings of vegetables and herbs.

     It may not look like much of a difference, but the reader will likely not know what a cotyledon is. You may go on to explain it later, but this is a good place to start to simplify the wording.

    Sunshine fresh

    Smooth, warm conversational writing

    Keep it concise

    Employ user-friendly words and keep sentences and paragraphs short. Nobody hopped online to read lengthy paragraphs to get to the bottom of why their left foot is itchy. Here are two rules to keep in mind:

    1. Sentences should be a maximum of 28 words long.

    2. Paragraphs should be a maximum of 90 words.

    When you look at the numbers, 51% of low-scoring texts have paragraphs that are way too long. The second that readers see a solid block of text, they’ve likely decided to move on. While you’re writing, you can check your word counts to make sure you’re staying in your lane. If you’re having trouble being too wordy, practise writing sentences and removing unnecessary words. This paragraph is about 75 words long; getting bored yet? They should be shorter.

    As for sentences, chop ‘em up! Forget what you learned about proper sentence structure in high school. Keep. It. Simple!

    Use contractions and interjections

    Another great way to work on your conversational writing style is to use contractions. So write isn’t instead of ‘is not’ and didn’t instead of ‘did not’.

    This makes writing sound more casual as if you’re talking directly to your readers.

    When you start using contractions in your writing, you’ll see how it it relaxes the conversational  tone.

    Man pointing to emphasise doing conversational writing correctly

     Interjections are part of natural speech (oops, yikes, bravo) and they’re used to convey emotion and breathe a sense of humanness into writing. Used well they can elevate writing and add interest, but take care to use them sparingly to avoid overkill.

    Ask your readers questions

    One of the best ways to engage your reader is to ask them questions.

    When you’re reading something and the writer asks you a question, it makes you think doesn’t it?

    A question is a great way to get your readers to engage and remember the information from your content.

    It’s also an excellent way to get engagement on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

    Use the right conversational tone

    When creating a conversational writing style, you should develop your own conversational tone. That’s part of the fun! It’s also going to make your content memorable and stand out among competitors. It will, of course, depend on your circumstances, but being able to add in tidbits about your personal experience can create a lively connection with your audience.

    If your business needs to appeal to more than one type of client, you may need to wear multiple hats when it comes to tone. But persevere because working out the conversational tone that a particular group of clients is most comfortable with is a must-do task.

    While creating your personality in conversational writing, don’t be afraid to add in some pizazz. You can throw in interjections like yay! or ouch! to make your content come alive. Feel free to also get WILD and start sentences with those conjunctions and and but that we discussed earlier. You won’t get an F on your English paper for that here.

    Sprinkle sensory language

    Sensory language uses words related to our five senses to add emotion to writing. While sensory words may not sound like a good fit for business writing, the payoffs can be huge.

    Decades ago, American Nobel Laureate Scientist Herbet Simon observed that “In order to have anything like a complete theory of rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it.” The role of emotion in business decision-making remains a much-discussed topic today.

    The Harvard Business Review, for example, has been publishing articles on emotional intelligence for years. And while there’s no formula yet that determines how human decision-making happens, we can garner enough from the science to know that sensory language will influence the way people feel about your products or services.

    Now that we’ve got the science out of the way, let’s look at the categories of sensory language we can use to influence customers and generate leads.

    We can use visual, tactile and auditory words, as well as words that describe taste and smell. We can also put words that depict motion to good use. Sensory words shouldn’t be over-sprinkled, however. Use them strategically for the greatest impact.

     

    * Click on the categories below to see examples of sensory words.

    Dazzling, shiny, bright, sparkly, sparkling, tight, gloomy, grin-worthy, glint, glimmer, glow, shine, glossy, vibrant, glitter, knotty, murky, polished, wildly, animated, bulky, delicate, frail, wrinkled, grassy, gloomy, feeble, beefy, crinkled

    Razor-sharp, tight, smouldering, faded,  hollow, knife-like, watery, tangle, briny, damp, oily, squelch, slimy, fluffy, rough, smooth, hairy, sticky, chilled, gritty, velvety, soft, creamy, rounded, lukewarm, spiky, boiling, tender, sizzling, tepid

    Thundering, softly, gently, thumping, crashing, tingling, squeaky, piercing, whoosh, squeal, clump, boom, sploosh, crunchy, ear-splitting, roaring, faint, muted, buzz, whine, unspoken, tinkle, deafening, gurgle, squawk, hum, crackle

    Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, spicy, super-spicy, juicy, cucumber cool, crisp, stinky, bite-sized, piece of cake, garden fresh, freshly baked, overpowering, biting, tangy, lemony, minty, sharp, zesty, gooey, deliciously, wildly, intense, fruity, pungent

    Pungent, bitter, perfumed, scented, aroma, aromatic, sniff, odour, billowy, biting, faint, wispy, rich, misty, fishy, lemony, tangy, tart, citrusy, earthy, smoky, pine, flowery, lilac, mouldy, musty, rancid, stagnant, stench, gaseous, sharp, briny

    Stirring, dart, progress, flow, rapid, gradual, steady, slowly, gradual, slight, sudden, stubbornly, vibrating, mind-boggling, bumpy, stamp out, twirl, swirl, whirl, wriggle, soaring, paralysed, eye-popping, motionless, fleeting, zipping

    Sensory words are power words! 

    They engage your reader on deep levels and create a strong emotional connection. Take this example from chocolate maker Green & Black. Sensory words such as crunchy and soft don’t refer to taste, but to touch and sound. Now that’s powerful!

    A creative way to include sensory language in your writing is to insert them into metaphors. They can be evocative and moving, but must be used sparingly to have real impact.

    Metaphors compare two things that are different to suggest an image, likeness or analogy between them. 

    Simple examples of business metaphors are:

    Taking it to a new level and Growing a business.

    Literary metaphors can have an emotional impact on readers, such as:

    ‘My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.’ – John Green, Fault in our Stars.

    ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ – Pablo Picasso

    If you’re interested in using metaphors in your conversational writing, be original and quirky. They have much greater impact when they haven’t been read before.

    Use active voice

    Try to use active voice in conversational writing whenever you can. So, instead of writing ‘The house was sold by the real estate agent,’ write ‘The real estate agent sold the house.’

    In passive voice, the subject of the action (the house) is the object of the sentence. The passive voice is usually clunky and indirect. Avoid using passive constructions and enliven your sentences with active voice. It’s bright, lively and more direct.

    Active voice also enlightens your conversational tone.

     Google prefers active voice and, if you’re looking to rank, and it’s more aligned with the way people speak. If you’re new at writing in an active voice, just practise until it feels natural.

    Use informal SEO keywords

    When researching keywords to optimise content for search engines, we analyse ‘reader intent’. So we put ourselves into readers’ shoes and try to predict what they’re going to type into the search engine. 

    This is great news for conversational writers because the best ranking keywords are often informal, casual and even slang. People favour a conversational tone when they type queries into Google.

    As I write this (and remember SEO is constantly evolving) 900 people each month are typing the longtail keyword ‘How to do SEO,’into Google. But only 10 of them are typing in ‘How to understand SEO.’ It tells us everything, doesn’t it? Conversational language is how readers actually think, themselves.

    Check: Are you telling a good story?

    We use stories to understand and find meaning throughout our lives. If the story isn’t complete, we often ponder the ending in our heads.

    There are tremendous benefits in having a story to tell in business writing. Prospective clients are known to make decisions based on the emotional impact they’re experiencing while listening to, or reading, a story. 

    Cassie Gillette, writing for Semrush’s 2022 Global Report, predicts that storytelling in content marketing will be key in 2022–23. ‘If you’re going to work on one skill this year,’ she wrote, ‘work on being a better storyteller’.

    You can use a storytelling structure for any type of business writing, providing the format works with the three components that make a good story – characters, conflict and resolution.

    Hubspot discusses how to elevate your brand and connect with your audience through storytelling in this free download.

    Dazzling conversational copy

    Finely crafted and delivered to your inbox

    Read it out loud

    Wondering if your writing actually sounds conversational, or  if you’ve got the conversational tone right? 

    Have an open mic for yourself and read it out loud! 

    Try reading your content aloud and recording it. Listen to see if it has a conversational flow to it, and if you enjoy hearing it. Another tip for reading out loud is to see where you pause to take a breath.

    A good rule of thumb is that if there is a pause, you should break it into two sentences. This is going to do wonders if you struggle with being super-wordy when you write.

    Watch this video from Kaleigh Moore on how to write conversationally.

    The bottom line

    To sum up, conversational writing is a necessary skill if you want to break through the tsunami of mediocre content on the internet.

    It’s a powerful tool in marketing that will help you stand out among competitors.

    People want personality to shine through when they’re reading content online. They appreciate shiny original text that hasn’t been seen a zillion times before. Sensory language will also add pizzazz, but don’t overdo it.

    Warm, human words they trust because you know them already, as well as what they’re looking for. Be a creative conversational writer, an original thinker with a warm-hearted tone and aim to both educate and entertain your audience.

    Before you leave

    Want to put some punch in your writing? Check out How to make your writing stronger.

    Looking to improve your content marketing writing? You’ll enjoy How to be a good content writer.

    For tips on writing awesome blog posts, see How to write a smashing blog post.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
    textshop

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

    You might also enjoy