convey to compel 5: word choice

Act, don’t describe.

The words we like to use most are the ones we need the least. Act more, describe less and drive the point home more effectively.

Let’s make this lesson short and straight to the point, just like that of its substance:

If you’re writing to persuade or compel your readers, try to use the fewest words possible to get your point across.

As Scott Adams, author of the Dilbert blog says:

“A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences.”

Why is this?

Human bandwidth, attention span and a dislike for redundancy. Remember our first post about thought distribution. The more you write, the more you give your readers to process, and the more IQ they need to grasp your thoughts. By using fewer words, you make it easier for them to follow along.

What’s the easiest way to tighten up your writing? Cut out redundant description. Leave adjectives and adverbs for when you’re writing fiction or writing for entertainment.

Example: if one of the benefits of your product is that it’s efficient, don’t say

Our product is extremely efficient.

The word “extremely” here is just taking up extra bandwidth. Plus, it sounds like you’re trying too hard, because you are.

“It’s efficient” is enough. Heck, it even sounds more powerful. Less is more.

There’s also something to be said for the psychological notion of scarcity. We desire what’s scarce. We pay attention to that which comes around less often. Words are no exception.

The fewer words you utter, the more weight they carry. Choose your words wisely.

What are the most powerful words? Verbs. Action words. When scientists measure the brain’s response to different types of words, verbs illicit the greatest response. It makes sense, because they are either telling us to act in some way, or telling us that action is happening. Action evokes the greatest response.

Now, let’s revisit limiting our descriptive words. Verbs themselves are descriptive. More often than not, the descriptive nature of a verb means it needs no additional adjective or adverb.

Example:

You’ll run very fast to buy our product!

vs

You’ll run fast to buy our product!

vs

You’ll run to buy our product!

Which sounds the most powerful to you? Which sounds the weakest?

Now let’s revisit our earlier example of telling your customers that your product is efficient. Based off everything we’ve discussed, what’s a more compelling way to say that?

Our product saves you time.

We have a verb. We direct the sentence to the reader. We describe a benefit tangibly. We stimulate the reader’s brain more. We win.

The less words we use to make our point, the more impact each word has. Remove all words whose meaning is already found in other words in your sentences. Use verbs over adjectives when possible. Write in the active voice. Choose your words wisely.