05 Mar Why words will always matter
I spent a good chunk of today reading documents, news stories and emails, probably like you did. There were 48,802 words in all. That’s 48,802 opportunities for the writers of those words to connect with me and to get me to agree with what they’re writing.
What I noticed though is that I didn’t connect with a lot of what I was reading – I found that word choices were getting in the way of me “picking up what they were putting down.”
There’s a lot of buzz about the PR industry’s focus on videos, photos and infographics and how we all need to make more use of those tools. But with any medium we’re working with, especially the words we’re writing, there’s a form of communication that’s common to all of us. And that form is clarity.
Susan Smalley, a Professor Emeritus from the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioural Sciences at UCLA, highlights why being great with words is still at the crux of what makes a good communicator. The key for me was that scientists have found that just hearing sentences about elderly people led research subjects to walk more slowly.
What does that even have to do with communications? Well, Dr Smalley tells us: words incite and divide, calm and connect, create and effect change.
So once you grasp the awesome power of the keystrokes you’re tapping away at with your keyboard, don’t let your message get lost, because your words can be your greatest asset. Just follow a few simple rules:
- Proofread carefully, especially to see if you any words out.
- Use of the passive voice is to be stopped
- Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them
- Be more, or less specific
- Its the litdle things that count – poor spelling and grammar distract from your message
- Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary – it’s highly superfluous
- Understatement is best. Let your competitors oversell and under-deliver
As with all things, words can help or hinder you. Too often we make basic mistakes that can distract from the substance of what we are saying meaning it’s up to us, as communicators, to make the most of every stroke, syllable and sound bite. If you still don’t believe me, watch this TED-Ed video by Terin Izil.
Our industry writes volumes upon volumes on the importance of style, avoiding corporate double-speak, ‘activating’ verbs and avoiding glib phrases. But at the end of the day (see what I did there?), think of it this way: you – or the idea you’re representing – are only as good as the words you use.