October 24, 2013

One “great” way to improve your writing.

Would you rather go to a “great conference” or an “informative and entertaining conference?”  And would you rather stay in a hotel that’s “great”…or one that’s charming, impeccably-run, intimate, luxurious, filled with character, chic, rustic, or a culinary delight?

Here’s the thing:  often times, the word “great” is just a lazy nod to positivity that doesn’t actually do justice to a description.  Saying something is great gives the reader no indication of WHY it’s great, which is really the information most useful to them.  You could tell a friend that the food was great at a restaurant you tried, but “great” to you could mean spicy and rich, and “great” to your friend could mean mild and tame.  You can tell your guests that they’ll have a great shopping experience at your store, but do you mean the service is gracious, the layout is simple to navigate, the prices are easy on the wallet, or the selection is extensive?

This matters most when you’re writing a piece of communication that intends to persuade your audience, for three reasons:

  • Using “great” instead of actually describing what you mean is a lost opportunity to make a connection that resonates with them and engages their attention
  • If you say something is “great”…and then you just have to go on to describe it using other words anyway…then you’ve wasted words with an unnecessary comment, and created a trigger that could relax their attention span (nothing sabotages attention faster than perceived “blah blah” in writing)
  • Relying on the word “great” too often snares you in the trap of sounding trite.  And trite never rings true, so your words won’t be effective.

Here’s how to use the word less frequently:  be aware of it.  Every time you start to write the word “great” in a sentence, just ask yourself…what do I really mean?  Take a moment to find more suitable words/phrases and your writing will transform into richer, more sophisticated communication.  This is likely to annoy you at first (flexing your vocabulary muscles takes time and practice), but soon it will become second nature.  Make the site thesaurus.com your new best friend.

There certainly may be times when “great” does the job (Q: “Can we meet at 8pm?”  A: “Great!”).  But a heightened awareness of using the word at all will prevent you from using it as a crutch.

And if you’re thinking of cheating by just adding a bunch of exclamation points to make the word “Great!!!!!!!!!!!” seem more powerful… here’s why that won’t work.

For more great insightful writing tips – from how to apologize effectively to why you should stop asking for things “ASAP” – visit the writing tips section of our blog.

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