Have you ever noticed that a smiley face at the end of the same exact sentence can completely change how someone interprets what you say?
Compare the following:
Let’s make sure this never happens again.
Let’s make sure this never happens again : )
In my experience something as simple as a smiley face can be the difference between coming off nice vs. appearing like a jerk.
Slight nuances in the syntax, punctuation, structure and semantics of your sentences can profoundly change the meaning and tone of anything you write. Any marketer or salesperson looking to persuade and influence should be acutely aware of this.
Below you’ll find a few examples where slight a variance in communication can influence how someone might interpret a statement:
Example 1: Word Choice
We’re building a new sales tool.
We’re building a new sales solution.
Difference: tool vs. solution
Interpretation: Me and my business partner talk about this all the time. Using the word tool to describe your product makes it seem like an incremental improvement or commodity. It feels small and undifferentiated vs. comprehensive and potentially game-changing.
Example 2: Capitalization
want to grab drinks tues?
Want to grab drinks tues?
Difference: want vs. Want
Interpretation: Though I’m a stickler for good grammar, there is a time and place to throw capitalization out the window. Uncapitalized statements seem more causal. So if there are instances where you want to position something as “not a big deal” you might be better served not capitalizing an ask.
Example 3: Follow up To-Do or Ask Emails
The next steps are to sign the NDA, integrate your email, and invite your co-worker then you’ll be all set.
Difference: Structuring to-do items in a sentence vs. series of checkboxes
Interpretation: Which structure do you think yields higher compliance? Though I don’t have empirical evidence, I believe the latter does…people love the feeling of “checking something off their list!”
I pulled this example from an onboarding email I use for Troops. The great thing about this strategy is that as people complete action items, you can update follow up emails with checked boxes. For example
Follow up Email:
You can copy these checkboxes from Evernote and paste them into an email or template.
Example 4: Email Address
Difference: Hey vs. Hi
Interpretation: You always want to calibrate your tone with your audience, but generally I mostly use ‘Hey’ in cold emails. Less formal is better in most instances.
When someone emails me Dear. the immediate thin slice is that this person does not know me and I want to delete it. Very different from a stranger who emails me with “Hey.”
Example 5: Email Ask Structure 2
I’m sure you’ve seen this before, but check out the difference visually in how this might seem in the middle of a 4-6 sentence email.
I’m looking for two things:
Difference: highlighting something you want people to be aware of in a sentence vs. indented call out.
I’ve tended to get better results when I make indentations that clearly highlight exactly what I want someone to be aware of.
So much of our business and social interactions are processed in rushed, asynchronous environments without the luxury of body language or verbal tonality. Think about how much of your job is done over email and social life through text!?
As a result, decisions are made in fractions of a second on whether someone will or will not do what you want.
This is why understanding the nuance of structure, punctuation, and semantics is so imperative. Extreme attention to detail may seem feeble, but all of these little nuances really do make a difference!
I think the best way to develop “Writing EQ” is to write consistently, put yourself out there (ask for stuff), and always try to calibrate your actions with results. Eventually, all of this stuff will become second nature.
What examples can you think of where punctuation, structure, or semantics completely change the meaning of something?