A certain presidential candidate is fond of the word “tremendous.” (A few days ago I heard him use it five times in 20 seconds.) So does the failure to use fresh language disqualify a candidate for high office? Even a word nerd like me would say no, but I do think each of us should pay attention to words we’re overly reliant on in written communications.
As a starter kit, I’ll pick on two words I find too commonplace in business writing, and you can take it from there.
Like a ball ricocheting off the sides of a pinball machine, “tremendous” seems to bounce around in the workplace at a dizzying clip: tremendous opportunity, tremendous job, tremendous advantage, tremendous resource, tremendous month. Does the word communicate? Sure. That’s why we use it so much. But the editing process gives us an opportunity to transcend the way we normally communicate and use language that wields more impact.
Let’s examine how we can refine a sentence just by focusing on this one word.
Hannah did a tremendous job on yesterday’s event.
Level one. How about using a fresher adjective to enhance the compliment? Maybe exceptional or superb or terrific or exemplary. (Probably not amazing or awesome if we’re aiming for freshness, but those words do have zing.)
Level two. Instead of being content with a fresh adjective, how about specifying why or how Hannah excelled? Hannah expertly prepared every speaker for yesterday’s event.
This often seems to be a default word that expresses little: quality program, quality product, quality team, quality performance, quality job. (And let’s also put a target on the back of high-quality, as in high-quality investments, as if other firms specialize in low-quality investments.)
The trick, of course, is to identify what distinguishes our company or organization so we can employ more exacting language – language that will make our communications more compelling.
Today’s post echoes previous ones that focused on aiming for precision in our writing. Here are a few:
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.