Monday, March 2, 2009

Write well. Use action verbs.

I repeat. Write well. Use action verbs.

The action verb drives the sentence forward. It drives the paragraph. It drives the e-mails, letters, memos, and reports that you write. It drives any piece of writing, even a post card.

What a sin, then, when writers emasculate the action verbs, drain them of their energy, and turn them into nouns. Implement becomes implementation. Negotiate becomes negotiation. Obfuscate becomes obfuscation. The action is muffled. And, the being verbs creep into the sentence like pale vampires. Then sentences like this one appear out of the fog:

"The implementation of the project specifications and the addition of the retention of the consulting engineers with the creation of a new reporting system will BE forthcoming in the next quarter."

These types of sentences, so falsely impressive and bureaucratic in their tone, not only confuse readers and waste their time, but also disguise responsibility. We don't know who is implementing what, or what is being specified by the new report that is being created.

Anyone can write these types of sentences. You can. Just imagine yourself in a three-piece, pin-striped suit with argyle socks. Imagine you are sitting in your cubical in the city planning department. Just before you break for lunch and the egg salad sandwich you brought from home in your pale blue Tupperware container, you decide to write that memo the boss asked you to write to the local citizenry. You square yourself away at the computer, poise your hands over the keyboard, and bang away, with the objective of trying to impress the boss rather than communicate with your audience. You write the following:

"The recent amendments to the city planning codes and the adoption of the new planning districts voted on by the city council and ratified by the county manager, pursuant to the articles of incorporation, are in the process of verification so that home owners are in possession of certificates of occupancy can understand the new planning policies."

Say what? In one sentence you manage to confuse a whole city of people but, hey, you feel good knowing you impressed yourself and probably the boss. But, do you really want to write like that? Or, do you want to write well? I know the answer, so I give you this advice: Load up on your stock of action verbs. Keep a pile handy near your laptop when the being verbs try to sneak into your sentences bringing their clouds into your writing. If you see any of the following - is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been - in your sentences, rush them out unceremoniously. Only use them when they are aiding the action verbs as "helping verbs" or "auxiliary verbs." I repeat. Write well. Use action verbs.

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