Tool #21 Know When to Back Off and When to Show Off

"When the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate." - Roy Peter Clark

Last week's post was about choosing the right amount of elements in your sentences with a purpose in mind. We select the details based on specific goals. For example, if we want to compare or contrast something, we only accept two features for our sentence. We then decide to organize these sentences into a coherent paragraph that flows and keeps the reader's attention. Overall, we want our readers to continue reading, so we adjust our sentence patterns accordingly.

Back Off or Show Off?

This week, our goal is to know when we should use a different style of language. This technique entirely depends on the topic's focus. If the topic is more serious, then we want to avoid exaggeration or, what the literary scholars call hyperbole. If we want a lighter tone, we can use some excess language to attract our readers and draw attention to what it is we are trying to convince them to purchase, or at least pay attention to it. 

In his book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark tells us: 

"The more serious or dramatic the subject, the more the writer backs off, creating the effect that the story tells itself. The more playful or inconsequential the topic, the more the writer can show off. Back off or show off." 

Know Your Product and Advertise Accordingly

For example, if your goal is to sell something expensive, let's say, a nice car. Wouldn't it be better to place that car somewhere ordinary, so the car is the focal point of the ad? Think about it: how many car commercials have you seen that show a primo car in a simple background, driving around a thoughtless winding road? The car is the centerpiece, so anything too flashy is going to take the viewer's eye off the vehicle and onto something less critical. Now think about those less expensive cars: those commercials tend to exaggerate the background to make the car look more flashy than what it is. Overall, less is more when you know your product and the goals you have in selling that product to your target audience.

I part with the advice Clark gives us. Something any content writer should head and consider when putting together any type of marketing material:

Understate or Exaggerate: You Decide

This week, look at something you've written in the past and decide if you understated or exaggerated appropriately. If your point is to sell something that isn't glamorous, do you make it more flashy than what it is? Did you use hyperbole for something that is already so innovative? Did you notice a negative difference in your sales when you did this? How can you change your vision to reflect the overall goal of the thing it is you are trying to get consumers to respond to and buy or read?

Comment below and tell me what you think! Do you need someone to help you write quality content that turns searches into purchases? Contact me today for a FREE consultation! Until then, happy marketing!


Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.

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