Cadence is the pulse of your writing. It’s the rhythm and flow, the beat of it.
Writing isn’t just about conveying information, it is also an experience for the reader. Good writing feels alive.
Good writing is also enjoyable to read. It should ebb and flow, contain rhythm and energy, and the reader should “hear” a unique voice in their head as they follow the words. Reading an article or story by one author should not feel the same as reading another, much like speaking to one person is not the same as speaking to another.
Cadence is defined as “a modulation or inflection of the voice,” and in writing cadence is created by the author’s voice in the words they choose, the structure of the sentences and paragraphs they put together, and the patterns they create in their writing as a whole.
Cadence is something all writing has — it happens whether the writer is aware of it or not. New writers often have awkward, choppy, or inconsistent (sloppy) cadence. Then as they practice and grow and hone their craft, their cadence improves and becomes more comfortable. This is often expressed as “finding their voice.”
Types of cadence in writing
Questions — The tone of voice goes up at the end of a question, indicating the question is finished and the other person can now respond.
Questions/question marks also create a longer-than-average pause in the flow, as the reader waits for a response/briefly ponders the answer before continuing.
Questions can be used strategically to create emphasis on a subject, point, or emotion, and/or as a break before transitioning to a new thought/paragraph/line.
Sarcasm — Sarcasm twists the meaning of a sentence to become the opposite.
Sarcasm is trickier to convey in writing vs speech, but when it works it can be very effective at communicating emotion and meaning.
In blogging sarcasm also plays a big role in “conversational” writing styles, since sarcasm is such a commonly used tool in informal verbal exchanges.
Conversational — Conversation has a unique flow that varies depending on the individual(s) speaking.
Conversational cadence in writing aims to emulate the same flow in written words as spoken ones, and in doing so creates a sense of informality, friendship, and (to some degree) intimacy.
Conversational cadence can also boost perceptions of authenticity, as the writing is recognizable as belonging to a specific individual.
Technical — Technical cadence (think text books, scientific journals, first drafts) is tight and focused. The rhythm is often a simple ‘boom boom boom.’ Fact, fact, another fact. There is little to no up and down, or pause and go. The writing has no personality and does not sing. It communicates facts, but not emotion.
Function of cadence in writing
Cadence is a tool for communication. In writing and everywhere else it serves to give deeper meaning to words, to convey detail and emotion and nuance that would otherwise be missed.
Cadence can also support authenticity and help build personal connections and loyalty in online audiences.
Elements of cadence
Word choice As all writers know: words matter. Words may have the same meaning but different connotations (one darker or more serious than another, for example) and formality/informality is determined by word choice as well. Writers choose their words carefully, and (often subconsciously) those words work together to form an ebb and flow pattern that is unique to that writer.
Structure The structure in which writers put their words (that they have so carefully chosen) has a big impact on how they are read and perceived. Sentences, paragraphs, and punctuation all play a big role. Do you write long, flowing sentences with many ups and downs? Or short, to-the-point ones that get right down to it? How often do you use exclamation points and question marks? There is no right and wrong, but structure has an impact.
Repetition We all have patterns that we default to, rhythms that feel comfortable and right, “go to” words we use again and again. A sentence that is too long for one person may not be long enough for another. Some of us “yell” incessantly with so many exclamations. Others are slow and deliberate, or use sarcasm frequently. In the modern world emojiis can even play a role.
How to improve cadence in your writing
Good cadence feels effortless and invisible to the reader, but that’s not to say it happens without intention on the part of the writer.
The single most important thing any writer can do to improve or change their cadence is practice. Just write!
Much like riding a bike or learning to swim, writing with an authentic and natural cadence is something that happens almost subconsciously once you find your rhythm. Almost.
Things to do to improve and/or change the cadence in your writing:
Cadence in writing is the rhythm and flow of words, and it’s what makes your writing unique to you. It is, essentially, your writing “voice.”
Cadence can also be changed and developed over time, and you may even create different types of cadence in your writing for different projects.
The most important thing about understanding cadence is knowing how to use it for your benefit — if something doesn’t sound right or the flow seems off take a look at the elements we’ve discussed here and see if you can’t make some improvements. Over time it will become second nature!