Beyond Keywords: Boost Readability (the Greek way)

There’s no easy way to say this, but as far as readability is concerned, your writing is probably as flat and as dull and as boring as a sugar free pancake – as far as Aristotle is concerned, that is…

The ancient Greeks lay the foundations for Western civilisation as we know it. Part of establishing a foothold on the democratic process was the small matter of getting everyone to agree on how to live together – and that meant mastering the fine art of persuasion. Luckily for us, those clever Greeks put down in words how best to put things down in words. These rules for creating persuasive arguments became known as ‘rhetorics’ – a few biggies of which we shall cover here. Once the rhetorics had been widely adopted and accepted, a contemporary Greek philosopher named Aristotle gave us three framing devices called Pathos, Ethos, and Logos. We’ll get into that, too, because if you want to increase readability with copy that effortlessly convinces and converts, you’re going to need a delivery system to compliment your keyword research.

Copy that converts – it all begins with democracy

Government in Ancient Greece was stumbling, complicated, and flawed. Bizarre practices such as offering yourself as loan collateral (resulting in slavery if you couldn’t repay your debt) and sending all Spartan children to serve in the army aged 7 are clear indicators that the Ancients didn’t exactly have the best ideas on absolutely everything. BUT. When it came to styles of government, the Greeks gave us democracy – from Dēmos (‘the people’) and Kratos (‘power’).

Unlike other fledgling states at the time – which were without exception run by Game of Thrones style dynastic tribes and monarchies – the Greek belief in democracy resulted in an annual national lottery that randomly awarded government positions to the general population. All Greek men over the age of 30 qualified for this great honour. Becoming a successful Athenian statesman relied on the ability to persuade people in person. There was no email. No printed memos to pass around. No notice board on which to post your manifesto. You would instead take a deep breath and speak your piece. Schools dedicated to the art of persuasion sprang up. Spin doctoring became a profession. Before anyone knew it, the ‘rhetorics’ had been born.

Rhetorical devices (because keywords alone won’t do all the heavy lifting)

Keyword research will help to tailor the message – how you deliver it is up to you. Vague advice such as creating copy that ‘resonates with the reader’ is all very well and good, but how? We’re going to look at some rhetorical devices that create rhythm, flow, and readability. There’s our first rhetorical device, right there. “Rhythm, flow, and readability”. You probably know it as the ‘power of three’. The proper terminology is ‘tricolon’. This is the concept of a quickfire catchy triplet without interruption. But that’s an easy one. Let’s delve a little deeper.

Antithesis

Antithesis means ‘to oppose’, and it’s a particular favourite rhetorical device of mine for increasing readability. First you say one thing. Then you say the opposite. This is great for framing parallel arguments right at the start of any piece of writing, creating a contradiction that demands further investigation on behalf of the reader. Here’s a couple of examples of Antithesis in action:

“Five star resort. Zero star review.”

“Say goodbye to money worries. Say hello to financial stability.”

Anadiplosis

Anadiplosis is the procession of linked sentiments, where the ending of the previous sentence is repeated at the start of the next sentence (indicating a ‘knock-on’ effect). Anadiplosis can help to underline a series of events, increasing readability by ramping up towards an outcome. Here are some famous examples:

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

“The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.” – Gladiator movie promo material

Periodic Sentences

Periodic sentences can help to increase readability by funneling the reader towards an eventual point at the end of the sentence, adding emphasis to the conclusion. To create a periodic sentence, place the main verb at the end of a prolonged sentence:

“With low monthly payments, stunning vista views, a temperate climate, and communal swimming facilities, this Spanish complex is a stand out choice for those looking to relocate.”

Diacope

Diacope is a useful all rounder in improving readability. You will find use for diacope in main titles and subtitles just as often as you’ll find use for it in the body of your text. Diacope is a word sandwich. A quick wake up call that can highlight a point out of the blue. Here are three movie examples (see if you can name the movies):

“Fly, my pretties, fly”

“Bond, James Bond”

“Game over, man, game over”

Here’s an example of saleable copy: “Cheap holiday deals, nothing beats cheap holiday deals”

Aposiopesis

Aposiopesis is a fantastic device for creating a cliffhanger out of thin air, simply by abruptly ending the sentence and leaving the reader to wonder about that which has been omitted. This could be used at the start of a piece of copy to create the impression that something big is about to happen, or at the end of a piece of copy to add suspense to an ongoing debate. Here’s how:

“The most important rule to increase readability is… well, …”

“You can’t afford not to follow these rules, or else-”

Epistrophe

Epistrophe is where each part of a staggered sentence ends on the same word. Epistrophe can help you to hammer home a point by establishing a pivotal theme that is then given a conclusion:

“First learn the rhetorics, each and every one of the rhetorics, and nothing but the rhetorics. That’s how to become a pro at writing copy that converts.”   

Hypophora

Hypophora is a brilliant device for opening a piece of copy and gripping your reader, or for rejuvenating interest in a piece of writing that has begun to sound slightly flat. The structure is easy: ask a question then answer it yourself:

“How do we increase readability? By following the rhetorics set down by the Ancient Greeks.”

Pathos, Ethos, and Logos – how to approach your reader

Once you have a grip on how to include your keywords in among some rhetorical devices, it’s almost time to start typing. You may have never considered your options here, but there are three possible routes forward as a copywriter: Pathos, Ethos, and Logos (as outlined by Aristotle around 2,500 years ago – there’s nothing new under the sun, as they say).

  • Pathos – appeal to your reader’s emotions

Pathos is the Greek word for both ‘suffering’ and ‘experience’, and it gives us the English word ‘empathy’. Pathos is broad and can be linked to any statement that aims to resonate with the reader on an emotional level:

“Gain peace of mind today”

“You cannot afford to miss out”

“Made in England” (evoking feelings of national pride)

  • Ethos – appeal to your reader’s ethics by displaying authority

Ethos means ‘character’ in Greek, and gives us the English word ‘ethical’. The basic principles of Ethos involve writing in a tone that is familiar to the audience, in a way that is deemed fair, whilst highlighting expertise. Guest speakers being welcomed on stage by a host are typically introduced using this language, setting the audience up to hear the views of an expert who represents the way that they feel.

“Michael is multi-instrumentalist who teaches advanced music theory at Oxford”

“We are the industry experts – as evidenced by our 100% satisfied customer base”

  • Logos – appeal to your reader’s sense of logic through facts and figures

This one is the most straightforward of Aristotle’s three devices for putting forward a convincing argument. Logos gives us the word ‘logic’. Creating a logical argument speaks to the reader’s sense of justice, and elicits a feeling of agreement (because nobody wishes to stand out for being illogical). Quoting statistics is very common use of Logos.

“Let me start with a basic fact: …”

“The government quotes a rise in crime as the reason for increased police funding”

Increased readability – conclusion

Aristotle lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. He was a student of Plato, who in turn was a student of Socrates. That’s quite some lineage. Mixing and matching the rhetorics with Aristotle’s three framing methods (Patho, Ethos, and Logos) can give you a structure to your writing. Perhaps some of these devices are intuitive to you and you recognise them as commonplace in your writing already. Having these principles at your fingertips can nevertheless help to speed up your overall writing process. Afterall, who among us in the copywriting community hasn’t completed our keyword research only to be faced with a blank screen and no idea where to begin?

Go forth, use the rhetorics, frame your arguments (there’s ‘tricolon’ again!).

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Ben Atherton

Ben Atherton

Ben is a grammar guru with a passion for the written word. Upon graduating in 2008, he trekked across Europe and produced his first travel book. A career in SEO copywriting for the law, music, and food industries followed, before recently spending a year in the role of magazine editor for a national publication.