Unleash Engaging Comparisons


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

September 4, 2019 

Unleash Engaging Comparisons

“Explanations require lots of attention, but attention is scarce. So don’t explain. Instead, anchor in what people already know.”

— Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Business correspondence sometimes gets a bad rap for being dull and lifeless. You can breathe life into your writing—while also clarifying your ideas—through engaging comparisons.

How can comparisons engage readers?

1. Comparisons can make flat ideas interesting.

Flat: The website's new design left me wanting more. Yes, the update is innovative, but all the best old features are missing. We should consider improvements.

Fresh: The website has turned into a band that refuses to play its hits. Yes, the updated design is innovative, but the site now lacks the features that made it popular. Can we incorporate crowd-pleasers back into the design?

2. Comparisons can anchor unfamiliar (or unclear) ideas to something familiar.

Unfamiliar: Our cooling system's air reaches you at a velocity of 20 cfm.

Familiar: Our cooling system’s airflow feels as gentle as a breeze through an open window. 

3. Comparisons can make scattered writing unified.

Scattered: HomeDetect scans your yard for motion. It notifies you of unlocked doors and unexpected movements. It triggers an alarm during break ins.

Unified: HomeDetect is your personal watchdog, patrolling your yard, guarding your doors and windows, and deterring unwanted visitors.

How can I avoid bad comparisons?

When used strategically, comparisons engage readers and clarify ideas. But when overused or misused, they distract readers and muddy ideas. Avoid the following pitfalls.

  • Clichés

    Our triple-glazed replacement windows are tighter than a drum.

  • Incomplete comparisons

    Our replacement windows are more effective. (More effective than what?)

  • Overextended or exaggerated metaphors

    Exaggerated: Icy blasts can't pierce the glass of this window warrior.
    Better: Our windows will shield you against winter's fury.

  • Mixed metaphors

    While climate change worsens, most car manufacturers are sitting on their hands without a paddle.

So, remember, use comparisons to add interest to your writing, but keep them simple, fresh, and clear.


Try It Out!

Practice writing comparisons by completing the following sentence starters.

  1. My workspace looks like . . .
  2. Finding a good parking spot feels like . . .
  3. I carried the signed contract to my supervisor as if it were . . .
  4. My email inbox reminds of me of . . .
  5. My commute takes as long as . . .

Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide for more strategies for engaging readers.