When I think of a business message I immediately think of an email coming from my boss that is stern, to the point, and practically perfect. When it comes to writing in a professional setting, whether it is an email, blog, etc., the words you use make ALL the difference. The words included within your writing are something that YOU are completely in control of. According to Courtland Bovee and John Thill, authors of Business Communication Essentials, successful writers and speakers take care to use the most effective words and phrases. Using words effectively is more challenging than using words correctly.
When you write a professional message it is important that you have a balance between abstract and concrete words and that you use words that communicate well.
Abstract words express a concept, quality, or characteristic. Concrete words are something you can touch, see, or visualize. Abstractions tend to be intellectual, academic, or philosophical. Abstract words are words like, love, honor, beauty, profits, tradition, productivity, quality, and motivation. Concrete words are more like chair, table, kiss, red, horse, kick, rose, two, software, and database.
Abstract: The victim contacted the station and stated that she wanted an officer to respond to her house.
Rewritten: The victim telephoned the station and said that she wanted to talk to an officer at her home.
The best way to tell if a word or phrase is concrete:
- It is specific, particular, real and tangible
- It is characterized by or belonging to immediate experience of actual things or events
- It provides specific meaning
The best way to tell if a word or phrase is abstract:
- It is insufficiently factual
- It has only intrinsic form
- There is little or no attempt at written pictorial representation or narrative content
- It is unclear, indefinite, imprecise, indistinct, slight, hazy, vacant or obscure
- The words or phrases do not provide specific meaning.
Aside from using abstract and concrete words you need to make sure you use words that communicate well. You want to use the most powerful words possible for each situation. Be sure to choose strong and precise words, choose familiar words, avoid clichés and use buzzwords carefully, and use jargon carefully. Here are some examples of ways you improve your word choice.
Weaker Words Stronger words
Good admirable, beneficial
Bad flawed, worthless
We are committed to providing We provide…
Unfamiliar Words Familiar Words
Peruse read, study
Clichés and Buzzwords Plain Language
Call the shots Lead
A new ballgame Fresh start
Costs an arm and a leg Expensive
You can ask yourself some of these questions to check your word choice.
- Am I sure what each word I use really means?
- Have I found the best word or did I settle?
- Am I trying to impress my reader?
Using words you are unfamiliar with can be dangerous so that should be avoided. You can become more skilled in choosing the correct words over time, it just takes practice.
Do you feel word choice matters that much? How do you decided what words to use?
Ashley Day is a Criminology major attending the University of South Florida. She will be graduating in the Fall of 2013 and has plans to work for the FBI.