Have you chosen the right word?

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thinking-manIt’s time for a writing tip, so let’s consult Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a book that has been used to rap the knuckles of schoolchildren for generations.

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs,” Strunk and White command. Few writing “rules” are iron-clad, and this isn’t one of them. We have adjectives and adverbs for a reason, after all. Strunk and White themselves use adjectives and adverbs all the time.

But the point is to encourage you to think about the words you choose. If you have needed to use an adjective to qualify some noun, it is worth asking if you have chosen the right noun in the first place:

·      Instead of “lousy weather,” why not “rain” or “storm” or “blizzard”?
·      Instead of “unfavorable economic conditions,” try “recession” or “downturn” or “slowdown”
·      Instead of “facial hair,” try “beard,” “goatee” or “mustache”
·      Instead of “retail outlet,” how about “store”?

Similarly, if you’ve needed to use an adverb, pause to consider if you’ve got the right verb:

·      Instead of “running quickly,” try “sprint” or “dash”
·      Instead of “looking closely,” try “examine” or “inspect” or “study”
·      Instead of “strongly suggest,” try “urge,” “implore,” “beg” or “demand”
·      Instead of “treat carelessly,” try “ignore,” “neglect” or “disregard”

The same advice applies if you have put “not” ahead of a word:

·      did not remember … forgot
·      not paying attention … ignoring, daydreaming
·      not important … trivial, irrelevant, insignificant  

You may notice that the suggested words carry various shades of meaning. That’s the point: by removing an adjective or adverb and using a more focused noun or verb, not only do you use fewer words but your meaning is more precise.

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