I don’t know about you, but in school I got by pretty well churning out reports and written tests using big words and self-important academic grammar. For writing about ideas those stuff can be appropriate – and in the University environment readers are accustomed to such puffery. Ideas are abstract, which is why when we write about ideas in school papers the language gets complicated. For advertising copy, chuck the write-to-impress model and get down with the common words we all use every day. If people don’t understand the word you use, you will lose them. Write short sentences. Break up long sentences into shorter ones. Sometime this is easy. Sometimes it is not, but simplicity in communication is worth reaching for. Try to write in concrete terms. Not abstract terms. Objects and people are concrete. Rudolph Flesch discovered that comprehension of written text increased when people were the subject matter and when their names were used. For example: “John drove to Mary’s house and met Mary’s parents.” The John and Mary story is boring but you know instantly what it means. Comprehension is easy because the words are common and short. Four of the words are about people, and you picture them in your mind. The verbs, “”drove” and “met” are direct an uncolorful. But watch what happens when I use one in a new sentence. “John spurred his horse and drove the cattle towards the slaughterhouse” Instantly vivid images spring to mind. See how that works? When you have a story to tell your choice of verbs either causes the reader to visualize the story with a flat, faceless picture when the words are un-colorful and unspecific as in the first story. The second story springs to life because of the implied motion and action in the verb “spurred” and when we read the subject of the verb, the object affected by it, a vivid picture forms in anyone who has watched more than a couple of westerns. As an exercise try writing short, one or two-sentence stories about people, animals and things capable of movement. Try to write simply and directly, using verbs which, in the context of your stories, imply dramatic action. Example: “John leapt into the driver’s seat and raced over to Mary’s house to meet her parents for the first time.” Do you see how drama and hidden motives are implied? Even though the story is still generalized and dull, the use of energetic verbs of people doing things engages your interest in ways abstract ideas do not. You may be different, but immediately on reading the story as it is I invent a back-story for John’s motives, and wonder about the character of Mary’s parents – because when we say he “raced over” there is evidence of a strong motive there. When John merely “drove to Mary’s house” we know nothing of his mood and the whole story comes off as dull.
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