Your words matter

Let’s continue our WordPower Adventure with two more contemporary workplace writing Best Practices that might challenge some of your word use habits.

Specific Beats Vague

One habit you should challenge … and change … is our preference for vagueness. Whether the choice is conscious or not, ‘precise’ beats ‘vague’ every time.

Precise words are clearer, easier to decode consistently and more credible. When your reader sees ‘ … a few problems …’ and they know you know the real number, they may wonder about your honesty or credibility.

  • So, turn ‘ … more than a little bit over plan …” into “… significantly over plan …” or, even better, into ‘ … x% over plan …’.
  • Change “… several projects account for most of the overtime …” into “… six projects account for 73% of the overtime …”.
  • And opt for “… 30 complaints from 13 customers …” instead of “… lots of complaints from several customers …”
  • Even a range is better than a vague word when you don’t know for sure – ‘Expect the package within five to seven days’ is still better than ‘ … within several days …’.

Verbs Beat Nouns

Another habit you carried over from those 500 word essay days in high school – noun phrases. Take a simple verb like ‘decide’ and turn it into a noun phrase like ‘…reach a decision …’. Then, add ‘ … in the process of reaching a decision … ‘ to get six more words and the naive assumption that it sounds more important. Bad idea.

Go back to the root verb and stay with it. Verbs are strong action words. Nouns are static things. What sounds better to you? Let me know when you reach a decision … ummm, I mean decide.

We’ll continue discussing typical word choice habits and suggesting more audience-centric alternatives in future articles. As always, if you have any questions or comments, call or send me a note.

Happy writing at work and keep trying to make your words matter.