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5 Phonosemantic Writing techniques that make your message impactful

In the book, Gullivers Travels, Gulliver comes across two distinct groups of people the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians. If you don't know the story one set of people was tiny whereas the other were giants. From their names can you guess which ones were which?

Phonosemantics says that any word can make an impression by the way it’s pronounced, with each sound, (or phoneme) creating a specific psychological impression on the reader.

The bouba-kiki effect, was first introduced in 1929.

In the experiment, participants were shown two shapes and asked which one is bouba and which one is kiki.

Which one is bouba and kiki

95% of the participants called the rounded one bouba and the spiky one kiki because the sound of the words pronounced seemed to align with the visual shapes.

In her book Gods in the Word, Margaret Magnus, explained the concept:

  • Many words beginning with /b/ relate to so-called “barriers, bulges, and bursting” headings because our lips come together and form a barrier to the airflow when creating the /b/ sound. It results in a bulge and a burst of sound.

  • When pronouncing “kiki,” on the other hand, our lips narrow and our tongue makes a kind of sharp movement, therefore increasing Kiki’s chances to appear spiky.

Another reason why the sound of a word affects us is due to how our brain makes connections often associating a sound with a shape, a color, or an emotion.

When it comes to impressive copywriting sound symbolism can come in useful when considering brand names, ad slogans, and headlines.

Here are five writing techniques you can use to create messages that stick.

1. Repetition & Alliteration

Repetition makes your words sink into the audience’s mind and makes them memorable. To be memorable, the words, phrases, and taglines must use similar words to increase repetition. Think of your favourite song - you know the one with the catchy chorus.

Taylor Swift Shake it Off Lyrics ,
Taylor Swift Shake it Off Lyrics

Alliteration works in a similar way. It holds your audience's attention and can speed up your reader's reaction time. Think American Airlines, Coca Cola, PayPal, KitKat, Range Rover now imagine them without alliterations - that's right Bugs Rabbit wouldn't be as catchy as Bugs Bunny.

2. Use sensory words

Sensory words are mainly verbs and adjectives and are more powerful and memorable than ordinary words because they make your reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel your words. And when you read them your brain processes these words differently, it pulls you into your own memories and makes you experience tasting a sweet cake, or smelling freshly cut grass which in turn, creates a new memory.

While sensory words can make your copywriting more compelling, one to two sensory words in a headline or an email subject line should be enough to hook the audience and add personality to your writing.

Sensory Words
Sensory words source
  • Sight Words indicate colors, shapes, or appearances.

  • Hearing Words describe sounds and can often mimic sounds (onomatopoeic) for instance: boing, gargle, and clap

  • Taste and smell words are easy substitutes for bland words for instance good, nice, or bad, can be swapped with Yummy, Juicy, and Stale

  • Touch words can be used to describe feelings and abstract concepts: fluffy, rough, and sticky.

  • Motion uses active words or describes movement. Put Active verbs at the start of your headline to kick-start your content.

3. Bucket brigades

A bucket brigade is a succession of phrases that connects one concept to another. It helps you develop a relationship with your readers by making your writing more conversational.

The term bucket brigade comes from the method of forming human chains wherein a group of individuals transfers objects down the line to one another.

Bucket Brigades

It is often used for blog writing, giving your content a conversational tone that influences the readability of a text and makes your text come “alive.”

The following help to engage your reader’s brain and create an impression of dialogue.

  • Let me explain why

  • Keep reading to find out

  • However, here’s the deal

  • But it's more than that

  • So what does this mean?

  • Can you imagine?

  • Let me explain

  • Do you want to know how it works?

  • Picture this

  • OK, I know what you’re thinking:

  • Think about that for a minute.

  • I know the feeling:

  • Have you ever wondered?

4. Soundbites

Soundbites are short yet powerful, poetic phrases that make their core messages more punchy.

A classic example is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

You can put them in the last sentence of a paragraph for your audience to remember or include them at the top of your “TL:DR” or as an introduction

Gary Provost This sentence has five words
Gary Provost This sentence has five words

5. Use paragraph rhythm

Whether you're writing short or long-form content your writing needs to sound smooth, with each line flowing. Gary Provost, the author of Make Every Word Count: shows the importance of switching between short and long sentences to make your sentences write like music.


Phonosemantics may sound like a complex word, but it is a simple strategy

Copywriting frameworks can make even the most seasoned writer sound like everyone else. Release your inner poet and bring your words to life using Phonosemantics or sound symbolism.

  1. Repetition and Alliteration

  2. Sensory Words

  3. Bucket Brigades

  4. Soundbites

  5. Paragraph Rhythm

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