Writing Tips

Emotional Markers in Business Writing


Think about a recent article you read, show you watched, or story you heard. Whether or not you realized it, you were carried along that journey through a progression of what I like to call emotional markers, or milestones that elicit feeling and offer an engaging bridge to the next level.

Using too few emotional markers in your content runs the risk of losing the audience’s attention. You’ve undoubtedly read this type of document before, where one thing runs into the next and nothing seems to stick. On the flip side, using too many emotional markers makes the reader feel like you’re trying too hard and detracts from your major points of impact.

There are certain moments that leave an emotional footprint on a reader – even in the driest of documents – and it’s worthwhile to map them out before you start writing. Placing the right markers in the appropriate places can make an incredible improvement to your documents, especially in a world where so many things are simultaneously competing for our reader’s attention.

Once you are able to identify emotional markers, it’s an easy transition to using them in your own work.  Luckily, they often have certain characteristics, such as the following:

  • They may be written with a slightly different sentence structure or tone than the rest of the document.

  • They bring out important information or data that you want your reader to remember.

  • They remind your reader what they are reading and why.

  • They either provide answers or summaries of what you have already stated, or hooks to draw your reader into what comes next.

  • They drive home a point quickly and with great impact.

A Shout Out to Cartographers

Map makers have been using this technique for thousands of years. Larger cities and roads are obviously larger or titled more clearly. This is because they are emotional markers – they give the viewer a sense of where they are (relativity) and why it matters (correlation). If the map showed everything in an area in the same way, it would be overwhelming and counter-productive.

When you create a document in the business world, it’s obviously not the same as when you sit down to write a short story or novel. Yes, you are bound to rules that can hinder creativity in the business world, but that is precisely why you need to find ways to sneak in the magic where you can if you want your readers to be emotionally invested….if our work was already doing that, we’d see folks lined up at Barnes & Noble to buy stacks of proposals and white papers!

A great way for you to channel the creativity is to think of yourself as a cartographer. Your mission is to provide a map to the reader that will tell them where to go, how to get there, and why they want to be there. More importantly, they should think they found their way all on their own.

Let’s look at a couple examples:

  • Proposals: Requests for Proposals usually provide a distinct order in which the reviewer wants information to be provided. It often includes submitter information, qualifications, similar experience, and experience of the proposed team. This information is the template they almost always go by because it’s clear – it takes them from high-level to specifics. It’s up to the submitter to emotionally charge each of these areas so the reviewers mentally earmark differentiators about the proposal as they move onto the next submission. They need to feel as they read rather than read about how you feel.

  • Case Studies: We’ve all read a boring case study, and they make me so sad! The whole purpose of a case study is to tell an awesome ‘before and after’ story – this is your time to shine! Make sure to use emotional checkpoints between sections so the reader can really feelthe change you brought about. Discussing how bad a situation was before you stepped in? Leave a hook at the end of the section so the reader thinks, “that’s not good! How did they ever fix that?”

Avoid Copying the Copycats

Adobe Stock Copycat_Anthology Use Only.jpg

Think for a moment about the people, places, books, movies, film, or art that have impacted you. There was something about that person or thing that stood out among the ringing cell phones and small talk of the world and left a change in you. I bet that there was something different that you saw or felt that gave you a bit of a jolt – maybe not everyone felt it, but youdid.

The something different – the ‘je ne sais quoi’ – doesn’t come from trying to be like the herd. There is something exceptional  in what you do, and it will be lost if you try to capitalize on what worked for someone else.

Now I’m not saying that you should be unprofessional or pretentious; rather, I’m encouraging you to choose new words, re-envision your stories, and create authentic emotional checkpoints that represent what you and your company truly have to offer. By all means, you need to familiarize yourself with what else is out there to keep your edge, but using that information in the right way is what can empower you to blaze your own trail.

Bring it Home

I wholeheartedly believe that the more you read, the better you write. I find it helpful to occasionally spend a few minutes flipping through passages from books or online articles, trying to find the emotional markers embedded within. Anything that draws you in, that makes you nod in agreement or epiphany, or enhances the way you engage with rest of the piece is an emotional marker.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes about writing with purpose and genuine intent….I guess in a way, a good quote is an emotional marker that is so on point, it stands alone.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
― Mark Twain

“We owe it to each other to tell stories.”
― Neil Gaiman

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
― Robert Frost


Until next time, happy communicating!