By Anja van den Berg
From symbols to multifaceted phrases and alliteration, brain scans provide scientists with intimate detail on exactly how our psyches respond to language.
Now, new research shows that you can write in a way that rewards your readers’ most primal learning needs, releasing pleasure chemicals in the brain.
Whether you’re writing quick emails to co-workers or a bulky report for the board, here are three tactics that will help get your message across:
- Simple is the secret.
The more complicated you might try to write, the less intelligent your audience might perceive you!
Princeton University scientist Daniel Oppenheimer investigated how readers viewed complexity. He asked 71 Stanford University students to assess two written passages. One was composed of simple words, while the other written piece was complex. The students consistently reported that they perceived the author of the complex passage as less intelligent.
Moreover, studies have shown that it literally pays to keep your writing simple.
Researchers used a computer to rank the readability of shareholder reports from closed-end investment companies. Their findings reveal that companies that issue reports hard to read traded at a 2.5% discount to competitors.
- Evoke the senses.
Concrete details light up neurons that process smell, sight, sound and motion, says Bill Birchard, business author and book-writing coach. “Your brain, as it turns out, yearns for full-bodied stimuli — and then it runs an internal multimedia show.
“Scientists have shown that when people in MRI scanners read words like garlic, cinnamon and jasmine, their olfactory circuits light up. The same thing happens with sight, sound and motion.” Birchard advises that you should write “as if you’re scripting lines for readers’ internal cinema”.
- Make it emotive.
Our brains process emotions much faster than thoughts. Programmed, reflexive reactions and motivations also accompany each emotion. For example, fear prompts a dry mouth and the urge to flee or fight, which served our hunter-gatherer ancestors who needed to outrun fires and fight foes.
Birchard says your words stir up your readers’ emotions, which shape what they understand. Emotion and language deliver meaning together. The leaner you are on emotion, the slower readers are on comprehension.
Flavour your writing with your unique voice, character and experience. Self-revelation – measured and apt – creates a social connection with readers. Also, keep it story-driven.
“Evolutionarily, stories are believed to have served as a primary vehicle for sharing lessons,” Birchard says. “We’re wired to ask, ‘What did she do next?’ and ‘What happened?’”. So, play to your readers’ needs to hear narratives and to resolve questions.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/11/write-to-reward-your-reader