How to turn mediocre mush into seductive writing – a guide to using sensory words

Have you ever just written a blog post?

Tap, tap, tap, edit, publish. And done?

Writing is a struggleNot me.

Not ever.

When I sit down to write, I know I’m in for a battle. Hours and hours of probing for words and wrestling sentences while trying to fend off procrastination.

To me, writing is like fitting monstrous pink elephants through keyholes. Writhing with frustration, my hands seek comfort in the warm and silky fur of my sleeping cat. She stretches, flexes her white paws and purrs.

I turn to face the computer again. I’m about to impale my screen on a fence spike when I see the first draft forming. It’s messy and the edges are rough, but I smell potential. Now I have something to sculpt. Now comes the fun.

Can you picture this?

That’s because I made it easy for your brain to create a mental image of me losing it (and getting it together again).

What I wouldn’t say is this:

I find writing very hard and the frustration almost makes me give up.

Because that would be mind-numbingly boring. You would leave this blog, never to be heard from again – and I would deserve your icy shoulder.

So instead of boring your socks off, I would present you with as many sensory details as your brain can absorb.

But what are sensory words?

What does it mean to season your posts with sensory details?

And how will it make your writing pop like fireworks? Because it will make it pop. And I have science to back me up. But more on that in a minute.

First, let’s get physical.

How does your writing feel?

You know the saying Show, don’t tell, right?

That’s why I’m not telling you that writing is a struggle. I’m showing you.

Sensory details help your brain create a mental image of what’s going on.

Sensory words are words that you can experience with one of your five senses.

They are words that describe how something looks, smells, sounds, tastes, or feels. In my example above, rough, warm, and silky are tactile words while white is visual. And purring, of course, is one of the loveliest sounds on earth.

Catering to the senses makes your writing soar.

Now imagine this:

Business writing with sensory wordsYou wake up early on one of those orangy pink summer mornings. You tiptoe around not to wake the snoozing house.

Outside, the fresh smell of the night’s drizzle is still hanging in the air, and your feet get wet as you walk around hugging the emeral green grass with your toes. No cars in the street yet. Just the birds cheerfully chirping and bustling in the trees, wishing you a good day.

The bold words are the ones that poke the senses and kick-start your inner movie theater.

Sensory words are often adjectives or adverbs. They’re easy to stuff in – but beware. Too many adjectives and adverbs will dry up your writing.

What to do instead?

Go for nouns and verbs.

Seven times out of ten, nouns and verbs are better candidates for the job.

Why?

Because nouns and verbs pack a bigger punch than adjectives and adverbs. They don’t clog your reader’s throat like their cousins tend to.

Within all word classes, there are weak and strong versions of a word. A rule of thumb: The more specific you can be, the stronger the word.

If a car was parked in the street, was is a yellow Toyota or a cream-colored Fiat? If you were moving around the house, were you darting, jumping, or tiptoeing? If you’re sick of something, then why just remove it? Why not uproot it, cut it out, demolish or annihilate it?

Dare to write with gusto. Your reader’s brain will want to change the channel if you bother it with vague descriptions.

Not every sentence has to make a sound or have a color, but try to include sensory words and strong verbs and nouns every now and then. Doing so will put the oomph back in your writing.

What does science have to say on the subject of sensory details?

Science says: Sensory words transform your writing into a physical experience.

Many business writers think that sensory stuff is for novelists and poets.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Sensory words are for human beings with senses and a brain to process the input.

Sensory writing affects the brainAnd no matter if you’re a B2C or B2B business, your customers belong in that category.

You do too.

So yes, you should definitely make time to learn what it’s all about.

Earlier, I claimed to have science on my side. And I do.

So get this: science has shown that the brain recognizes sensory words faster than abstract, vague, and general words. Specific parts of grey matter inside your skull light up on fMRI when presented to sensory words.

How fascinating is that?

No wonder it feels so real when you’re reading a paragraph packed with sensory details.

If you’re less in love with writing than I am, you probably need a little more convincing. You want jaw-dropping arguments for why you should go through the trouble of waking up your dozing creativity.

No problem.

First, let’s talk dwell time.

Dwell time is the time a visitor spends on your site before moving on.

Google likes dwell time because it signals that the user has found something to match her expectations.

Content that is both relevant and captivating hooks the reader and pulls her through the entire piece. Thus, dwell time increases and, in turn, your rankings will likely improve.

The perfect combo of seductive writing and relevant information will also make your bounce rate plummet to the ground. As a result, your rankings will further improve.

Second, let’s talk perception of ownership.

Sensory words attract customersBy helping your visitor imagine she’s holding your products, you can increase the chance of a sale.

Bet you’re listening real close now, huh?

A product description with sensory details can trick the visitor’s brain into believing she’s touching the product. And that increases her perception of ownership, studies show. In other words, it’ll be near impossible for her to resist your add to cart button.

So you see why sprinkling your content with sensory details is worth your while?

They’re the awesomesauce that makes your visitors flock around your content like ants on a splotch of spilled strawberry jam.

How to use sensory words

Master novelists, storytellers, and poets can teach us a bunch about hooking readers through irresistible prose. No need to worry, though. You and I don’t have to be the literary geniuses of the century to pull this off.

Take a look at your blog post scheduled to go out next. Start at the very beginning: your headline.

In a sea of trillions of articles, you need something mouthwatering on top of yours to stay buoyant.

Because, let’s be honest, no one is going to read your stuff if they fall asleep somewhere in the middle of your headline.

Consider these three headlines:

  • How to avoid writing bad blog posts
  • 5 things that will improve your writing
  • A guide to effective copywriting

How about we give ’em a little shake:

Which trio would you put your money on?

I have mine on the latter.

Writing tip: Make a thesaurus your new bff.

All you have to do is google “word + synonym” and you will have a handful of suggestions to choose from. Or you can visit thesaurus.com and continue your search.

Use the thesaurus to broaden your horizon and weed out lifeless words. Like, for instance, adjectives that have been overused.

Some adjectives should come with a label saying “please replace before publishing”. Let adjectives like great, interesting, and effective¬†have a timeout and go for one of the following:

  • tantalizing
  • sparkling
  • alluring
  • epic
  • crunchy
  • riveting
  • potent
  • shocking
  • provoking
  • explosive
  • booming

or eye-popping.

Anything but the washed-out words you’ll find just about everywhere you look.

We tend to look up adjectives more often than nouns and verbs, so remember to give the latter two a whirl in the machine as well.

Did you know that instead of walking, you can:

  • stroll
  • march
  • saunter
  • trudge
  • hike
  • trek
  • stride
  • plod

or tiptoe?

To clarify:

  • She walked really fast towards her car.

(yuck!)

But:

  • She ran towards her bucket of bolts.
  • She jogged past a gas guzzler.
  • She sprinted the rest of the way to her four-wheeler.

(yummy!)

Why?

Because you can replace both a weak verb (walked) and a modifier (really) with a precise and hence stronger verb. And as a bonus, you get to use charming alternatives to what you would typically call a motorized vehicle. I love it when that happens.

Writing tip: Edit with your senses.

As you edit your post, let your senses have a say.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • When I close my eyes and listen, do I hear anything?
  • If my tongue touches it, would it be sweet, sour, or peppery maybe?
  • If I step on this paragraph or pick it up, would I feel it between my fingers?
  • Do I smell anything between the lines?
  • Can I push play and watch this paragraph like a mental movie?

If the answer is yes; if you feel your senses at work, you’re doing it right.

When I write, I like to make drawings to go with my articles. I do this because I love to draw and because I know you’ve seen the same stock images a thousand times.

Looking at them is like chewing cardboard, right?

No feast for the senses in those.

The brilliant thing about making my own drawings is that I have to look for imagery in my writing. If I have trouble finding it, I know I have too much tell and too little show in my post.

You can do the same thing without actually having to sketch anything if you’re not into that. Just imagine you had to make at least two drawings to go with your post.

Can’t find anything to draw? Go back and play some more.

Is your post crawling with imagery? Good for you.

There is one last thing I want to say about sensory words: They have to go with your tone of voice.

Writing tip: Read your post out loud to make sure it sounds like you.

Writing feels goodEvery language is rich and bubbling with savory words. And since you have all of them at your disposal, make sure to choose the ones that you feel comfortable using.

Your tone of voice is unique to you. It’s like a fingerprint or a signature (a real pen-and-paper one). And you have to be true to yourself for your tone of voice to be credible and lovable in the eyes and ears of your customers.

Now, go give your inner artist a gentle kick in the side. Shake the beast awake.

As if touched by some invisible Disney-magical hand, that stubborn pink elephant will fit into the keyhole.

Eventually.

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