If you have children at primary school, you may have noticed that they are often asked to write stories. They are also expected to use interesting words (avoiding ‘nice’ and ‘horrid’, for example), and techniques like similes and metaphors. They understand that these techniques can make their writing more interesting for the reader.
In business writing, the opposite is largely true. The advice is to use the simplest language and short sentences, and cut out adjectives and adverbs. Business reports need to cut straight to the chase, because your audience does not have time to mess around.
The importance of stories
However, this is not true for all business writing. Blog posts, for example, are far more like a story than a business report. If you don’t entertain your audience, they will not read any further. And when you are writing a blog, it is worth remembering one simple truth: human beings are programmed to like stories and pictures.
Some writers will tell you to avoid ‘metaphor’ blogs. They are not sufficiently user-focused, they say, and most analogies eventually become confusing. Quite apart from anything else, it makes search engine optimisation harder, and why would you want to do that? It is certainly true that there are many bad blogs that have taken metaphors too far. In trying to create engaging content, they have got lost in the metaphor, and failed to tell the story.
However, that is not an argument for banishing metaphors from your writing. Instead, it is an argument for learning to use metaphors, analogies and similes appropriately.
Metaphors, analogies and similes are all effectively pictures in word form. The precise differences between the three do not really matter for blog purposes. The point is that they are all used to explain or draw lessons about a particular issue by comparing it with something that readers will easily understand.
What, though, makes an effective metaphor-related blog post? There are four things that make good metaphor blogs stand out from the crowd:
- The metaphor is used only as a ‘hook’, and a way to make your points clearly
Ineffective metaphor blogs labour the metaphor. Many never fully emerge from the metaphor or analogy to make clear points about the lessons in another area. Remember that the lessons you are drawing out are the important bit, and the metaphor is only a way to make these clear. Posts that provide ‘five lessons that we can learn about x from y’ are a good way to do this, because they help you to focus on the important issues.
- The metaphors used are simple
The best metaphors are blindingly obvious. Not only does everyone know what you mean, but they also see instantly why you are using that metaphor. Consider these two examples:
Social media is like the water cooler
Well, yes, it’s where everyone goes to discuss last night’s television and world events. Obvious.
Social media is like water.
Why? “On its own, water does some cool things, but when combined with another compound it enabled the evolution of all forms of life.” (Mike Volpe via Verve Search). Even with the explanation, it’s still not quite clear how that relates to social media.
- The metaphors are instantly relatable
The best metaphors to use are not just simple, but relatable. It is no good talking about a niche hobby of yours, such as the finer points of sailing or skydiving. Your audience simply won’t know what you’re talking about, and your excellent points will be lost. Your audience needs to be able to relate instantly to what you are saying. Choose metaphors and analogies that everyone will understand or know about, at least by hearsay if not from personal experience. For example, don’t talk about sailing, talk about sport, because far more people participate in sport.
- Good blog posts use metaphors because they work
This comes back to not labouring the metaphor. It’s not compulsory to use metaphors or analogies. However, if you are describing something complex and difficult for your audience to understand, a metaphor or analogy can help. Don’t waste your metaphors on the simple stuff.
Help your audience see pictures in your words
Metaphors and analogies are useful because they engage your audience in the same way as telling a story. They make complex ideas instantly understandable and clear: effectively, they are like a picture in your words. It is well worth embracing the use of metaphors and analogies in your blog posts, but it is also worth keeping them simple and universal.