Tutorial 17: write the way you speak: 10 suggestions.

Psycho-copy is not crazy copy.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
February 12, 2019

I’m not always sure how to communicate the deeper levels of a ‘warm and personal’ style to letter writers. Perhaps it has to be caught, rather than taught.

Anyway, let me try. I like to call this kind of writing ‘psycho-copy’. I found the phrase in an advertising textbook many years ago.

Psycho-copy is simply a form of writing that appeals more to the emotions than to the intellect. It’s writing like you talk. Well, not exactly. Rather, it is writing like you talk, if you edited your ordinary speech patterns.

Write the way you talk: 10 suggestions

Remember, an oral style is not just recording your ordinary speech patterns. It’s much more. To repeat: it’s writing like you talk, if you edited your ordinary speech patterns. Here are some ways to achieve that goal:

1. Use contractions, just as you do in ordinary conversation.

The English language makes a clear distinction between formal and informal usage and contractions are the basic method used to break the formal barrier.

  • ‘I’m enclosing your reply envelope.’
  • ‘Won’t you send your cheque today?’
  • ‘Here’s the reason why... ‘
  • ‘You’ll be so pleased... ‘
  • ‘She’ll be grateful...

See what I mean? Of course, your boss may be more comfortable with the contractions omitted. Help him understand that people respond to a warm, personal individual, not a stuffy executive.

2. Look out for ‘whichs’

Delete the words ‘that’ and ‘which’, except when you need to emphasise a ‘that’ clause.

English grammar time: ‘which’, when used correctly, is a pronoun for a non-restrictive clause. And when you use ‘which’, the reader is never quite sure which word you are referring to.

‘That’ is a pronoun for a restrictive clause. Okay? Come on, don’t kid me. You don’t know the difference between a restrictive clause and a non-restrictive clause, now do you?

‘Which’ is a word which should never have been invented, which leads me to say that when you use ‘which’ you really mean ‘that’.

‘The cheque which you send will be a real blessing.’

Change ‘which’ to ‘that’ and your sentence is correct. But do you need ‘that’? Not really.

‘I’m sure that you’ll be satisfied.’

Omit the ‘that’ and you have smoothed out the sentence. But don’t hesitate to use ‘that’ for emphasis.

‘Times are tough. That’s a fact you already know.’

‘Our budget is already spent. What can I do about that?’

3. Use direct questions

Break up the pattern of neat declarative sentences. Asking a question invites a response, just as in ordinary conversation. But ask a question that will lead the reader to the response you wish to achieve.

4. Use pronouns

Don’t hide behind the passive ‘we’. Naturally, the executive director’s secretary will object. She (or he) has been taught that a well-mannered person refers to him or herself on paper as ‘we’. ‘I’ is egotistical.

So your boss thinks ‘we’ is proper. She doesn’t see it as pompous, detached and institutionalised.

Experiment with starting a letter just as you would a conversation: ‘I am writing to you today because... ‘

That certainly beats: ‘We sit down with pen in hand…’

And along with ‘I’, use ‘you’,’yours’, ‘my’, ‘mine’. Even though your letter is mass-produced, you can write to a single reader.

Your president may object to using ‘I’ and wants to say something like, ‘The organisation is larger than just one person. I am not the organisation, so I use the term ‘we’.

He’s right. And wrong. He represents the personification of the organisation. Donors respond to an individual better than to an organisation.

5. End sentences with prepositions

Don’t worry about using a preposition to end a sentence with. Way back in 1926, the English language authority, Fowler, said prepositions are perfectly good words to end sentences with.

Yet, in spite of what Fowler said, the superstition hangs on, and such grammatical beliefs are difficult to get rid of.

The preceding sentence is a grammatical mess – but it communicates the idea in a colloquial manner.

You can revise the sentence to read:

‘But the superstition hangs on and getting rid of such grammatical beliefs is difficult.’

Choose the version that suits your situation best. (Or more formally: choose the version
that best suits your situation.)

Ending a sentence with a preposition is one technique to convey a warm and personal feeling. The idea is worth thinking about.

Try to revise the preceding sentence to avoid the preposition at the end:

‘This is an idea about which it is worth thinking.’

6. Use connectives to hook sentences and paragraphs together

You already understand the principle of keeping the reader moving from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page.

Connectives provide you with a method of hooking words together. I confess – when I’m in trouble with the sequence of ideas, I resort to connectives. Sometimes a connective is the only friend I have. All the other words try to separate the sentences and paragraphs.

Become familiar with some basic connective words:


You will find dozens of other connectives when you start searching for ways of linking your sentences together. Also, you will often wish to employ connective phrases:

  • But that is only one reason why...
  • And then you will find...
  • Of course you can also...
  • And yet the problem continues...
  • Here is another reason why...
  • So you see...
  • Even if that happened...
  • Until I hear from you...
  • If you wonder why...
  • You see, this is the problem...
  • Then, I want to give you...
  • Also, you will have...
  • However, that was only...
  • And when that happened...
  • Therefore, if you also consider...
  • Meanwhile, you also will find...
  • Nevertheless, until you also...
  • Moreover, that happens when...
  • This is why...
  • Why not consider...
  • If that happens you can expect...

7. Avoid a passive beginning

a. Fundraising letters must motivate people. You can’t accomplish this goal when you bury the action words under ‘a’ and ‘the’, no matter how polite you think they are.

b. Rarely begin a sentence with ‘the’. And practically never begin a paragraph with ‘the’. Never begin anything with ‘a’.
c. Begin sentences and paragraphs vigorously. Use action words.
d. Let your letter flow freely from idea to idea.

8. Keep it simple

Use common words. What would happen to some of our most cherished sayings if we lost the simple words?

  • ‘Initially, God created the heavens and the earth.’
  • ‘All’s well that terminates well.’
  • ‘Deceased as a doornail.’
  • ‘Residence sweet residence.’
  • ‘Come and obtain it!’
  • ‘And they lived happily ever subsequently.’

9. Avoid prepositions and conjunctions more than one word long.

For example:

  • Inasmuch as
  • With regard to
  • In an effort to
  • On the basis of

These stuffy phrases can usually be replaced by simple words: if, for, to, by, about, since...

10. Don’t let your verbs wander too far from their subjects

For example: ‘We live in difficult and about the most heartbreaking days you can imagine.’

The sentence is fuzzy because ‘live’ is separated from ‘days’. Try this version:
‘We live in difficult days – about the most heartbreaking you can imagine.’

This edited version of the sentence qualifies as an example of a warm and personal style.
Why? Simply because the reader understands what the writer has to say.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance to these tutorials here.

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