Authors have a lot to think about when they are preparing to write an article. It’s not as simple as putting pen to paper, either literally or figuratively, and hoping for the best. Writing professionally is a difficult task at the best of times. The choice of words is key to any document – be it an email, proposal, presentation or larger project.
Authors need to consider their purpose – why are they writing? They need to consider their message and how to deliver it and how to set the article’s tone.
Should it be friendly, informative, adversarial or entertaining?
Authors need to consider their purpose – why are they writing?
They need to consider who they are writing to/for. Are they teaching, addressing equals, or trying to influence someone in a greater position of power than they have? Do they need to make their writing accessible to people whose first language is not English?
All these issues and more can be tackled when writing professionally by what words an author chooses.
Choosing Good and Bad Words
When writing professionally, all words are not created equally. Some words have more impact than others. Words can change the tone of an article. Repetitive descriptions can make reading an article tedious. Using complicated words can make an article difficult to read and add layers of complexity to people who are not completely fluent in that language.
Conventional thinking advises authors to use nouns and verbs and to minimise adjectives and adverbs
A recent article in The Economist raises this issue and questions the impact of using nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania explored how to use nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Conventional thinking advises authors to use nouns and verbs and to minimise adjectives and adverbs. However, the experiment showed that verbs and adverbs increased comprehension.
Verbs and adverbs
One of the reasons that good professional writing contains a high number of verbs is simple. Unlike other word types, verbs are required to make a typical sentence make sense. Sometimes, a verb can stand alone and become the entire sentence. Understood? Nouns, adjectives and even adverbs cannot do this.
Verbs are required to make a typical sentence make sense
Using verbs can also cut down the number of words needed in an article, which is an important consideration for authors who need to deliver material that requires a specific word count.
Adverbs and verbs can often be substituted with one verb. For example, ‘quickly went’ could be ‘ran’ or ‘rushed’.
Nouns and adjectives
Nouns and adjectives are a necessary component of good writing. But they need to be used wisely.
Nouns that describe tangible things are usually clear, such as rocks and trees and water, as The Economist illustrates. However, many writers use a lot of abstract words:
If too many abstract words are used, the article may lose concrete meaning, or may lose its readership due to boredom or simply because it becomes too difficult to read. Good writers choose their nouns wisely and limit the number of abstract words.
Good writers use adjectives to emphasise something or to provide new information.
Adjectives can enrich an article. They can also do little more than add to the word count of an article, acting as filler instead. Yet writing would often be very boring if articles didn’t contain any adjectives.
Good writers use adjectives to emphasise something or to provide new information. They avoid adjectives that duplicate information. For example, writing about a ‘solitary man’ is redundant. If he wasn’t solitary, then the author could have simply written ‘man’.
Good writing begins with good words. It also means remembering your purpose, message and audience.
Good writers are also good editors. They write a draft, put it aside, and reread it when it becomes fresh again. Then they edit. By remembering these simple tips, there is no reason why we cannot all become good writers.