Plain business writing course (entry 5): Words that pack a punch

Each word you write will either help you or hinder you in getting your message across to your reader.

Sometimes it's necessary to use a technical term or other complex word. This word will act like a stick being stuck into a set of cogs, though.


It takes the brain longer to process a difficult word than an easy one, and this disrupts the reading and comprehension process. The small words, on the other hand, will act like 'oil' and make the reader read easily and fluently.

It's okay if there are one or two big words in a sentence or paragraph. But if you throw in a number of 'sticks', your reader's brain may just come to a complete standstill!

In other words, don't surround a 'complex' word with other big words. Rather surround it with little words that 'oil' your sentence.





Rule 5: Use short, well known words that are concrete and active.



When you've finished writing a text, complete this checklist:

1. Most of my words are words that people use often and that they know well. √

2. I've used short, clear words where possible. √

3. I've used concrete words such as 'stick' and 'oil' rather than abstract words such as 'challenge' and 'success'. √

4. My sentences begin with active verbs, e.g. 'Use familiar, small words.' √

5. I've cut out all unnessary words. √

To sum up: To make your words pack a punch, throw out all words that are needlessly long, that readers will not understand, and that are not necessary for your message.

PS: We'll look at all of this in more detail later on.