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How to Write About Abstract Conceptsby@
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How to Write About Abstract Concepts

December 9th, 2019
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There are often concepts that exist in a purely abstract way. We therefore have to find ways to explain what these concepts are so that they make sense to as many people as possible. Using complex language makes you sound smarter and isolates readers, putting them off even finishing reading your sales page. Using plain English means that readers instantly know who you are and what you do. They can make an informed decision about if you’re the right fit for them faster, or decide that they want to find out more.

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When it comes to technology, there are often concepts that exist in a purely abstract way.

We therefore have to find ways to explain what these concepts are so that they make sense to as many people as possible. 

Failing to doesn’t just mean annoying friends and family when they ask you who you work for, but it can result in a loss of sales, too.

Take the application programming interface (API) — it’s a concept software developers are familiar with, but most people outside of the software world have never even heard of it before. 

Yet we use them daily without even knowing it. 

An API connects one piece of software to another. 

So, for instance, it might connect your calendar to your product management software. Or it might show your Twitter feed on your website.

Explaining abstract concepts in the right way can be the difference between business success and business failure, so it’s imperative you get it right.

Let’s take a look at the key techniques you can use to write about abstract concepts…

Use plain English

There’s a myth that we often see, and it’s that using complex language makes you sound smarter. It’s actually counterproductive: it isolates readers, putting them off even finishing reading your sales page. 

This means you’ll get fewer conversions and customers.

No matter what qualifications you have, we all have days when we’re tired and we don’t want to think too hard.

Plain English ensures that the work our brain does is in working out if the product or service is for us, not what on earth the page says.

Using plain English means that readers instantly know who you are and what you do. They can make an informed decision about if you’re the right fit for them faster, or decide that they want to find out more.

Tools like ProWritingAid and Hemingway measure your writing’s readability. It’s worth running your writing through a tool like one of these — they often pick up on things we haven’t even considered. When you’ve been writing for a long time, it’s easy to fall into bad habits. 

Having a tool that can pick up on them — even if it isn’t always right — reminds us that, no matter how long we’ve been writing or how much we write, we don’t know everything. There are always things we can do to improve our writing.

Use analogies

Analogies, metaphors, and similes are one of the best ways to explain abstract concepts.

Saying that something is like something else helps us to get our heads around new, complex ideas because we’re a visual species.

For example, we often refer to an API as "the plumbing being the apps". People know what plumbing is; they know how it functions, and how their kitchens and bathrooms wouldn’t work without them.

Coming up with the right analogy to describe your product isn’t always easy, but it’s worth taking the time to do.

Don’t fall into cliched metaphors and similes because they’re easy; come up with something that’s unique to you, or embrace one that’s popular in your industry.

Sideways Dictionary is a useful tool for finding analogies to describe technical concepts. You can submit your own if you come up with a good one, too.

Embrace visuals

Visuals — imagery, infographics, even videos — are great at further helping to explain what you do.

We worked with Mair Perkins to create videos that explain how our products work. 

The challenge was creating videos that worked with and without a voiceover. The videos often play on a loop at events where we can’t use any sound. But we also use them on our website. It was a juggling act that worked out well, and our videos have helped many customers quickly understand what we do.

And don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re videos — even videos with no sound still require writing. 

You remember that film, The Artist? Everyone wondered how it could win an Oscar for best script when there was no dialogue? Well, it’s because every action on the screen is still written by the scriptwriter. Your video should be no different. 

The more you plan your video before you start the creation process, the more likely it is to fulfil your vision and the less revisions you’ll need to do.

You can also create images using the words on the page. While this is a literary technique, it’s highly effective in copywriting, too. 

Think about it — when you read a novel or a poem, you don’t just get inside the character’s head—you see what they see. How? The world around them is described to you. 

You can use this technique to describe to your readers how the world around them would look with your product or service in their life. The stronger the visual, the better.

Explain the end result

When someone has just arrived on your website, they don’t care who you are. They don’t care what your products are called. They care about what you can do for them.

This goes deeper than explaining what the features and benefits are all about. 

This is about the outcomes that your customers can achieve.

How will you make their life easier?

What will their business look like if they use your product?

What will it look like if they don’t?

The more you can focus on these concepts, the more likely you are to get that conversion.

That’s because focusing on the outcome ties in with the visuals. 

While you’re not showing them a picture (although you could), you’re giving them a clear image they can see in their mind.

My personal favorite is Copy Hackers’ value proposition for Copy School: "become the most profitable person in the room". The course teaches you how to write copy, but that’s not the idea they sell to you. The rest of the page explains why copywriting is important, who the course is for, and the areas you’ll study.

Given how long Copy School has been going for — and that they’ve used that tagline more than once — I’d say it’s pretty effective.

Show evidence

Any evidence you have of success — whether they’re case studies, statistics, testimonials, or even news coverage — helps to turn your abstract concept into something more concrete.

Social proof is powerful, so the more you can get, the better. 

That’s why you’ll see long-form sales pages with testimonials after almost every section. 

Those testimonials are much more powerful than you saying "my product works’". They give your potential customer proven results they can compare their own efforts to.

Case studies are a particularly effective way of doing this because they tell a story. These were a key part of Cronofy’s early days, because it showed how big names like Skyscanner embraced our calendar sync technology to benefit their users.

Tell a story

You had to know this one was coming, right?

Storytelling is at the heart of all great copywriting, and it’s especially important when you’re selling an abstract concept. It's even more important when your product or service is new. 

Telling your reader the story of what they could achieve with your product or service helps them to feel what it’s like to be in that position. 

And that feeling is more powerful than anything except proven statistics that your product works.

You can do this on your sales pages, in use cases, in blog posts…this technique works just about everywhere.

These all give you the chance to show readers (remember the key rule: show, don’t tell) how things could change if they embrace what you could do for them.

Conclusion

Writing about abstract concepts — especially to people who are new to something — isn’t easy, but it’s a great way to flex your writing skills.

If your product or service is an abstract concept, such as an API, it’s a necessary skill you’ll need to develop, too.

What are your tips for writing about abstract concepts? Let us know in the comments!