When we are in a face-to-face conversation, we receive lots of information from nonverbal clues. When we read, we can’t see someone’s facial expression, nor can we hear tonal changes in the words. What can writers do to compensate for this?
Writers use active, descriptive words and precise vocabulary to create clarity. It sounds easy, but it’s something people have a hard time with. Writers just need to remember the visual they are trying to present or the questions readers might have, and include words to fill in the gaps.
Let’s look at how writers can clue readers in.
Describe the Scene
Maybe we have a young character who is trying to avoid telling her mother the truth about how she did on a test. We know she’ll try to avoid outright lying but will do her best to skirt the truth.
What kinds of things will she do that will indicate that she is uncomfortable? What words will she use to answer her mother? How can we incorporate these things in our writing?
“How did you do on that test?” her mother asked.
Emily rolled her eyes toward the ceiling over her mother’s right shoulder as she shifted from one foot to the other.
“Umm. Well, I didn’t fail,” she grimaced with a weak, “heh, heh!”
If we had just written “Well, I didn’t fail,” Emily said, we might not understand the whole situation. We paint the scene by describing Emily’s actions and the way she is speaking with specific vocabulary.
Use Precise Words
I already hear a bunch of you saying, “That’s great for fiction, but that doesn’t help me write a business letter.”
Well, precise language is even more important in business than it is in fiction. We lose efficiency when we don’t make ourselves clear.
Lots of folks have a hard time with this on resumes.
I’m a hardworking team player with advanced education. I am a highly qualified, successful worker with mad management skills.
Would you hire this person? What job would you hire her for? How many questions about the candidate pop into your head when you read this?
Say the job is for a design engineer in the air conditioning industry.
I led a team of seven engineers, designers, and lab technicians on a three-month project to increase SEER* in a five-ton residential unit from 14 to 16 with minimal changes to existing parts or footprint. (Note: I’m not an HVAC engineer so, if the numbers seem ridiculous, sorry about that.)
Notice that the candidate uses specific vocabulary to explain working on a team, leadership skills, time frame, and industry knowledge.
In business writing, the trick is to answer all the questions before someone has the opportunity to ask. When people have to stop and seek further information, they waste time.
Revision is where most writers will see what words they need to put in, take out, or change. (Remember, we never skip the revision step.)
The trick is to avoid vague, general, weak words whenever we’re writing.
*SEER: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio