Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video How to choose meaningful words, part of Writing in Plain English.
- Quick, define several, few, and stuff. Okay, you defined them. And you know exactly how many volunteers as in get several volunteers. You know exactly how many extra days are being requested in I need a few extra days to finish the report. And you have that specific office supply list ready to fill with the instructions get some office supply stuff. The opposite of specific is vague. That's what those words are.
Meaningless because they're vague. Plain English words are precise because the reader knows the exact meaning. A dozen volunteers, three extra days, and pens, paperclips, and pads of paper. Now let's look at these degree words. Very, as in very happy. Happy's happy. Extreme happiness has stronger words, enlighted or ecstatic maybe. I'm a fan of Mark Twain quotes and he has a perfect one for very but I'm paraphrasing to avoid a curse word.
The exact quote is at this web address. "Substitute "darn" every time you're inclined "to write "very". "Your editor will delete it "and the writing will be just as it should be." We are very happy to accept your very nice award. Our entire company is very honored that you are very aware of our recent, very exciting accomplishments. Truthfully, no good editor would leave very five times, but certainly wouldn't leave darn five times. Another degree word is quite, as in quite satisfied with the promotion.
Or quite a few people attended. I suppose satisfaction has degrees but completely or thoroughly are stronger to describe the degree of satisfaction. And saying that about 25 people attended is much clearer. Really, as in really impressed. Again, impressed is impressed. Does really add anything except an extra word? Pretty, as in pretty certain. Mark Twain's method works well for deleting pretty when it is used as an adverb.
Just, have you ever said, I'll do it in just a minute. Why not, I'll do it in a minute, or even better, I'll complete the project by noon. More or less, I was more or less confused. You were either confused or not, so say it. I was confused. Or clarify. The pay scale is clear, but the vacation policy is confusing. Several, few, stuff, really, pretty, very, more or less, not exactly crisp, concise, and clear are they? Another group of words that are not specific, not crisp is cliches.
People who resort to cliches are usually seen as not having a strong vocabulary or are lazy and their writing is called trite, stale, or overused. Not the definition of plain English. And cliches annoy people. Annoying your readers should never be your goal. Listen to this example and identify the cliches. Today's society has pros and cons to transparent communication. Having open communication usually leads to never a dull moment. Sometimes action can be taken in the nick of time, but other times the warnings fall on deaf ears.
Management needs to see the writing on the wall and feel free to make changes to nip in the bud declining employee morale. Did you identify eight of the cliches? Today's society, pros and cons, never a dull moment, nick of time, fall on deaf ears, see writing on the wall, feel free, and nip in the bud. If we take out those dull, overused cliches what do we have left? Transparent communication has advantages and disadvantages. Open communication can allow immediate action and improve employee morale.
However, if management ignores the issues, morale can decline. 25 words. Here's a list of some common cliches to avoid. These are from an Oxford dictionary website. Dozens of other cliches are also used, just Google cliches. And finally, let's look at relative terms. The formal definition for a relative term is one that names either a relationship or an object as standing in a certain relation. An easier way to think about relative terms might be is someone either rich or poor? tall or short? young or old? If you make $50,000 a year and you're writing about someone who makes $250,000 a year, you might say he's rich.
But to someone, Bill Gates for example who's net worth for 2015 is $79.3 billion dollars, $250,000 sounds like change, far from rich. So rich is a relative term. One more, you might describe someone as old. You're 30, for example. You might mean someone who's in his 50's is old, but someone 70 would never describe someone 50 as old. How can relative terms be turned into plain English? Give the specifics. His yearly salary is $500,000 or she's 47.
Let the reader decide if that's rich or poor, young or old. So vague words, degree words, cliches, and relative terms need to be avoided for specific plain English writing.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
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- Understanding plain English
- Catching mistakes by reading aloud
- Simplifying sentences
- Using strong verbs and meaningful words
- Avoiding corporate jargon
- Finding the right voice and tone
- Editing flow and content
- Writing in a conversational style