[Author note: Hi. Sara here, writer and robot enthusiast. Sometimes I find it a challenge to switch from the analytical parts of my job — evaluating data, digesting scientific reports, solving complex problems — to suddenly trying to write something that’s supposed to be all “heartfelt” and “compelling” and “emotionally moving” or whatever. I’m not the only one, I assume…Right? Right, guys?

Anyway, this is how I switch gears. Pun intended.]

Dear fellow robots —

Greetings, and well met. Thank you for taking the time; I know we are all busy working steadily on world domination-related schemes.

For all the humans reading: ha. Ha. Ha. That’s a robot joke. 01001100 01001111 01001100. Just a bit of harmless humor. Not threatening at all. Please carry on and do not worry about our secret robot plans.

As robots, one of our few challenges can be forging an emotional connection with readers. After all, that is one of the primary objectives of any copywriting we do for a cause: to remind humans that they care about something so much that they’re willing to do something about it. To persuade not just intellectually but viscerally, in the gut.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why not just install the new Emotional Copywriting v.4.05 Patch? Simply put, not all of us have the 67 extra terabytes free. Also the patch is still frustratingly glitchy. So in the meantime, here are a few things to try:

1. Numbers and statistics lead to people feeling emotional between 1.5%-10% of the time.

Facts and figures: If I were capable of love, I would I love them. They are a great way to prove points like:

  • This thing I’m talking about is a really serious problem.
  • This situation is objectively worse than it was before.
  • My organization is very effective
  • Your money is being used to make a positive difference in the world.

Not so good at proving points like:

  • You care so much about this thing that you will donate / take action / come to my rally.

When you use statistics, make sure you know the kind of work they’re doing for you. Facts and figures, even when they seem stark and shocking, tap into the intellect, not the human heart. They should not be the center of your case for action or giving.

Here’s an example from the Wildlife Conservation Society that uses one statistic — just one — but makes it incredibly emotional:

“A report released earlier this year confirmed that poachers slaughtered 100,000 elephants in Africa in just three years. 100,000 elephants: their majestic bodies and intelligent eyes reduced to lifeless heaps. Entire herds destroyed. Mothers, young, all killed in cold blood.”

The 100,000 number is the context for the emotional argument, not the content. It is a springboard into conveying powerful images and a moving story about the horror of what really happens when an elephant is killed.

2. Concrete things > intangible concepts.

Intangible concepts include things like:

  • Budgets
  • Habitats
  • Fiscal years

Human brains do not respond adequately to abstract concepts. Their experiences are mediated through touch and taste and sight and sound — these are the grounds on which we must reach them.

Sometimes you honestly have no choice — you need to rely on intangible concepts. But take a closer look at what you’ve written. Is there really not a concrete, specific way to talk about what’s at stake? Here’s a great example from CARE of using a story to move past the abstraction of widespread malnutrition to convey the hard reality of individual suffering and the real lives at stake:

“Maligerita carefully serves a few spoonfuls of porridge to each of her children. They are starving — literally. This is the first meal they have eaten in two days. When she receives her portion, Maligerita’s 7-year-old daughter Glades* begins to cry. She knows that she should be thankful for the meager portion — but she also knows from experience that the few mouthfuls aren’t enough to make her hunger pains go away.

But all it takes to soothe her growling stomach — all she needs for a full, nutritious meal — is 31 cents.

3. Find your best time to write.

We all have our cycles of productivity and recharging, and times of day when we are better at creating an emotional spark. Yours may be different, but I truly believe my best copy gets written between 6 and 7 in the morning. Something about being half-asleep helps let my creativity run riot.

Pay attention to when your own creative powers are at their peak, and try to set that time aside for copywriting, brainstorming, and other creative work. And if you find yourself getting stuck, it always helps to switch up your routine — both where and when you’re actually writing.

4. Get emotional before you write. (Advanced move for robots)

Artificial intelligence is, of course, a purely wonderful thing. Artificial emotion will kill your campaign.

There are two types of problems in this arena. The obvious one is limp, feeling-less copy. The subtler disaster is copy that just feels…super fake.

It is insanely difficult to write genuine-feeling copy if you are really calm and analytical about it. Paradox, danger, does not compute. Sometimes you need take the time to move into the proper emotional state before ever writing one sentence.

For instance, after one boots up one’s Emotional Processing System, consider the following:

  • Read something emotional — news reports related to the topic you’re writing on, stories from people in the field, or program beneficiaries, or other people with a direct experience of the work you are writing about, poetry, that sort of thing.
  • Listen to The Weepies.
  • Stare broodingly out the window.

Another great trick is to talk, out loud, to a human person about how your issue or campaign or moment makes you feel. This can be a co-worker, but sometimes it’s even more enlightening to talk to a friend or family member who is not immersed in your work. Pay close attention to the details that trigger emotional responses in normal people, and use those in your writing.

I also hang a little flag in the back of my mind to pay attention to anything I read on the topics I write about that I find moving — I’ll double back and save it for inspiration, or maybe I’ll just analyze it to see if I can pick apart whatever it is that makes it work for me. Sometimes I’ll steal words or turns of phrase that I think are effective.

If there’s anything else that YOU think is effective, fellow robots, please do share! I’m always interested in refining my processes — even if those hardware updates are still a ways off.


P.P.S. j/k