JS Tip 86: From the Writing Workshops: Using Strong Verbs

In 1917, Ernest Hemingway worked as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. He was eighteen years old. 

The paper’s assistant city editor, Pete Wellington, challenged the young man: “Verbs are the most powerful part of the language. Make your verbs do the work.”

Hemingway later said this was the best advice he ever received about writing.

Avoid Weak Verbs: Weak verbs mask stronger verbs that have been turned into nouns (things): “We will provide authorization for the money.” Provide is a weak verb. (Notice how authorize—a verb, an action word—has been turned into authorization—a noun, a thing.)

Use Strong Verbs: Strong verbs are direct, simple, and powerful: “We will authorize the money.”

Fixing the Problem

1._ Look for words ending in “-ion,” “-ment,” or “-nce.”

2._ Find the root verb.

3._ Use the root verb.

Looking at Examples

An Original: We will do an evaluation of the policy. (Eight words)

A Rewrite: We will evaluate the policy. (Five words)

An Original: We will provide management and assessment for the approval process. (Ten words)

A Rewrite: We will manage and assess the approval process (Eight words) 

An Original: GreenCo provided maintenance for the building. (Six words)  

A Rewrite: GreenCo maintained the building. (Four words)

These things are important because conciseness is important. If you overwhelm your readers with words, you will lose them, and your message will fail.

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