Specific Beats Vague

(Based on what I still see and hear in the workplace,  it’s time for me to rant again about vague words and phrases. So here’s your ‘Stellar Idea’ tor October – Specific Beats Vague … every time.)

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

Specific 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.