Write and Speak for the Ear

The more we direct our words to the ears of readers and listeners, the greater our chances of getting the results we want.

You and I may not aspire to write great books or make great
speeches. But almost all of us want something to happen when we
write or speak. And, the more we direct our words to the ears of
readers and listeners, the greater our chances of getting the
results we want.

By writing or speaking for the ear, I mean that spoken words can
have more power than written words. After all, when we have
important messages, we prefer to deliver them verbally and
personally, rather than by sending a written message.

Of course, it’s not practical or possible to deliver every
message verbally. But, if we can capture some of the nuances of
the spoken word we can increase the power of our messages. When
we write for the ear, our writing undergoes some subtle but
important changes. Our words, sentences, and paragraphs change
in several ways.

Consider the number of pauses that occur when we speak. Most of
us pause often, more often than when we write. To capture those
pauses, use commas or one of the other ‘slowing’ punctuation
marks, such as colons and semicolons.

Writing for the ear also means shorter sentences. And even
fragments of sentences. As you can imagine, speech tends to
greater spontaneity than written expression, which means shorter
sentences and more fragments.

Many of the same principles hold when we make formal speeches or
presentations. Especially if we speak from prepared notes.

Whatever we say, when we speak publicly, has to go in through
listeners’ ears. And so, if you’ll allow me to belabor the
obvious, we need to write speeches for listeners’ ears, not our

You can call on many quick and easy techniques. For example, use
short words whenever possible. Words such as ‘many’ rather than ‘
numerous’; ‘use’ rather than ‘utilize’; and ‘need’ rather than

You can also speak for the ear by using common words rather than
jargon or technical words. Step back from your speech, after
writing it, and ask yourself if you use words that a child will

We also want vivid words, words that fire up our imagination,
that paint new images on the canvases of readers’ minds.
Descriptive words that convey action and emotion, words that
drive ideas into our heads.

Use active verbs and not passive verbs. Banish words like ‘is’,
and ‘are’. Also, check for the word ‘being’ and rewrite to get
rid of it. Bring in verbs that do something.

Now that you’ve got the words you want, put them into short
sentences. One short sentence. Followed by another short
sentence. But, every once in while add a longer sentence for
variety and to reduce the chances of boring your audience. And,
keep the ideas simple within those long sentences.

I’m biased, I know. After spending the better part of a decade
writing and reading radio news copy, I think it’s a good idea to
write for the ear.

Try it for yourself. Write something, read it out loud, and ask
yourself about the effect it’s likely to have on readers.
Re-write as necessary, and read it aloud again. Repeat the
process a few times. By the time you finish you should have a
well-crafted piece of writing, even if no one ever reads it
aloud or hears it spoken.

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott’s Communication Letter. Each week subscribers receive, at no charge, a new
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