Descriptive details are what convey meaning, and they are as important in an email message as they are to a feature story or news release. At the heart of good description is a careful choice of verbs and nouns.
When someone says, “We need to finalize the contract,” does it mean that the parties need to reach agreement on what the contract says? Do you need to approve the contract? Or do you need to sign it? (Approving it and signing it are not necessarily the same).
If someone mentioned an upcoming event titled “The Human Capital Metrics Conference,” would you rush to sign up? What would you be going to?
In a Wall Street Journal story about satellite photographs, the writer could have said that computers would combine the photos into a large picture. But instead he said the computers would “take the images and ‘quilt’ them into a mosaic that shows a large swath of territory.” The words quilt, mosaic, and swath provide images.
Instead of writing, “I explained to people the importance responding,” write, “I stressed to people …”
Rather than using a noun such as initiative, which can represent many things, say what you mean: a project, program, plan, effort, attempt, goal, strategy, PR campaign. Specific nouns and verbs help readers (and listeners) to see. Go through a news magazine and circle the strong verbs and nouns.
- The audience thundered its approval.
- Stock markets worldwide are spooked by the contradictory demons of higher inflation and lower economic growth.
- Competitive pressures squashed profits.
- Bookstore shelves are bulging with self-help title
Rather than reaching for easy but stale adjectives to try to bring writing alive, challenge yourself. The language is rich with words that convey action and evoke vivid pictures.