Do You Run, or Leap? Crawl, or Creep?

MOuntain BikerLet’s talk about that old workhorse, that four-letter word, that indispensible element in every sentence: the verb.

So what is a verb, and how do you use it? Perhaps you remember your English teacher telling you, “A verb is a word that expresses action (throw, run, examine, read, write), or state of being (is, are, was, seem).”

In a typical sentence (not always the most useful, but certainly the most common), the verb comes between the subject and the object, e.g., Mary (subject) throws (verb) the ball (object). You can also think of it as who (subject) does what (verb) to what (object). This of course, is for an active sentence. More about that later.

While we could talk about the differences between types of verbs (there are about a dozen types), Let’s concentrate today on how to use verbs for effect.

1. To add spice, and enhance your writing with greater clarity, use specific verbs, verbs that go a long way to creating the picture you want your reader to “see.” Paint a picture for your reader.

You could, for example, say,

“Jerry went down the hill.”

To be a bit more specific, you could say,

“Jerry ran down the hill.”

A bit better, but let’s be even more specific,

“Jerry raced down the hill.”

2. You can paint an even clearer picture with a step-by-step description, adding additional “picture verbs,”

“Jerry raced down the hill, tripped, stumbled, caught himself, and kept running as if the devil himself were about to devour him.”

In this case, we’ve used a couple of words with verbs to help paint the picture – “himself” with caught, and “kept” with running, and then the “as if” phrase to complete our picture.

You’ll note that in the above example, we’ve added words as we paint the whole picture for the reader.

3. Frequently, just exchanging one verb for another (“ran” for “went,” and then “raced” for “ran” in the above example) works well, and is all that is needed to paint a sufficient picture for more concise business writing. For example, you could say:

George sat at his desk.

Or

George slumped at his desk.

For tighter writing, you may want to avoid verbs like is, was, are, were…. E.g.,

MaryAnne is a person who plans for unexpected events.

Or

MaryAnne plans for unexpected events.

4. You could use a verb that “shows”:

Barbara is taller than her co-workers.

Or

Barbara towers over her co-workers.

5. Finally, that familiar grammar checker item: passive verbs. An active sentence is one where someone/something is, will, or has done something – an actor and an action, e.g., “Alex grasps the situation.” A passive sentence is one where someone/something is being done to, e.g., “The situation was grasped by Alex.”

Note that the active sentence in the above example contains four words, while the passive sentence must contain six words to provide the same information.

Passive sentences tend to be longer, slower moving, and impersonal. For better comprehension, easier reading, and fewer words, use active verbs to create active sentences.

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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Write Faster – Communicate Better!

We are all so very busy, and now we have the holidays coming up, and want some time to enjoy them!ThinkingWoman170

More than ever, holiday time is time to keep those lines of communication open. Not only with friends and family, but especially on the job with our customers and clients. Where are we going to find the time? Let’s begin by taking less time to communicate effectively.

So how can we write faster – and communicate better?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have a very definite bias in this area. Here it is: To write faster, you have to begin by knowing what you’re talking about!

First of all, take just a minute or two to ask yourself the big five questions:

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How to Write Instructions that Work!

womanInstructions200Remember the last time you started to install, or assemble, or repair something, following the appropriate set of manufacturer’s instructions – only to find that, while they included steps 2, 5, 6-8, 10, and 12 – they had forgotten to include steps 1, 3-4, 9, and 11?

How did you feel about the person who wrote those instructions and what about the company the instructions came from?

The instructions you and I write on the job are usually somewhat simpler, and certainly different from the late Christmas Eve “special gift” assembly guidelines described above. But the writing process for creating a clear, effective instruction that allows your reader to get the job done is very similar.

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And the Business Writing Trend is: Short!

But “short” is not enough. And “short” can cause you a lot of problems, cost you more time, and result in lost productivity. What we’re really talking about is the importance of being concise.typingOnKeyboard200

So, for today, we will assume that you understand the subtle, but critical difference between being “short,” and being “concise.” Today, we will assume you have prepared the reader for your message, and we’ll get straight to the point. What are some of the tricks and techniques you can use to tighten up your writing quickly?

Here are three to start with:

1. Use alternate formats wherever appropriate, even beginning with the first paragraph. The old standbys, bullet points and numbered paragraphs, are well known, well loved, and effective. But you know that.

Take a look at some of the lesser-known alternate formats, like the problem-solution, log, or question and answer formats, among others.

While the benefits of using an alternate format to shorten up your writing are many, and obvious when you see them, perhaps one of the foremost is that with the use of a good alternate format, you can also do away with the tricky business of writing a good transition. A good alternate format will make the transition obvious, reducing the number of words required, and enhancing comprehension.

And in an email, the only additional issue you need to watch out for is that your piece will hold its format. If you are writing outside of your organization, or if your organization does not share an intranet where all screens are set the same, it is most likely your formatting will not hold. Use the piece as an attachment, with the body of your email being a cover letter. Saving it as a pdf file is generally safer.

2. Use a cover letter. As you recall, an email should be no longer than a screen. A screen is long enough, with a screen-and-a-half maximum.

That first paragraph, the cover letter in this case, must never be any longer than five lines. This is the extent of your reader’s 100% attention span, and if that first paragraph is to do its job, you need to use that knowledge.

Two purposes of a cover letter are (a) to let the reader know, at a glance, what the attachment is about, and what he or she needs to do with it; and (b) obviously, to get him or her to open and read it. And to act on it the way you intend.

3. Use the old question, “Should this information be passed along at all?” Here’s where you can save not only words, but maybe the entire communication. I’ve had workshop participants tell me this one consideration saves up to half of their business writing time.

So there you have it. Three tips to shorten your written communication. More next week.

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We would appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your people at your location – or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Please give us a call at 503/292-9681 or email us at gail@gailtycer.com to discuss how we might be able to work together to meet your needs.

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Blogger Tip #1: Make it readable

This week, we’re welcoming blogger Marilyn Tycer. Marilyn is a graphic designer and blogger, and we’ve asked her to share some of her tips for bloggers.

Tip #1: Make it readable.

Now that you have a subject for your blog, and some ideas for posts, what comes next? Start typing! But it’s important to take care to craft your blog posts into something readable. So before you hit the “Publish” button, take a moment to revise your writing. While the subject of your blog might be popular, your blog probably won’t get a lot of followers if your writing is hard to read or bland. Continue reading

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Let Your Computer Tools Help

There’s a lot more to your word processing program than just spell checker!

For most PC and MAC versions of MS Word:

  1. Go to the “Tools” menu. Choose among the following: Spelling and Grammar, Thesaurus, Hyphenation, Dictionary, Language, Word Count. (Some of these may be found in subfolders—example: in Microsoft Word 2003, Thesaurus is found under Tools > Language > Thesaurus.)
  2. Go to File > Properties > Statistics. This will give you Date Created, Date Modified, Printed, Last Saved by, Revision #, Total Editing Time, and Statistics: Pages, Paragraphs, Lines, Words, Characters, and Characters with Space.

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