Avoid Weather Reports: Choose Words That Act
We need the paperwork by Friday.
The holding tank might explode.
I think that restructuring is a good idea.
What do these statements have in common? They are weather reports, informing the reader of feelings, needs, situations, and thoughts. Whether stated explicitly or not, their purpose is to inform. If all you are doing is reporting the weather, informing is fine. But if you want people to think, feel, or act differently, simply informing is weak. Either put the information into context or put it into motion. Let the reader know why the facts matter to him, or do something meaningful with the information.
Most words just tell. Some special words, however, act. The process of using these words is an action in itself. These words even have their own name. You don't have to remember it, but if you are interested, they are called performatives. For example, when you say I promise, you have actually done the action of promising. Before you said it, there was no promise. After you said, something new existed: a promise. Here are a few other words that act:
Apologize "I apologize for what I did."
Forgive "I forgive you."
Request/Ask "I request that you send in the paperwork by Friday."
"Please send in the paperwork by Friday."
Warn ”I am warning you that the holding tank might explode."
Recommend "I recommend that you restructure."
Other common performatives include thank, order, deny, forbid, and recommend. These words add backbone to your writing, making your ideas real and putting them into motion.
In some situations, these words are too strong. If you are writing to someone higher on the food chain, for example, you might not want to use warn or even recommend. In these cases, you can fulfill your purpose of warning or recommending by stating your case persuasively and letting the reader figure out what you intend. However, taking this approach creates the risk that the reader won't figure out what you mean.
If you want to make an impact, I urge (that's an action!) you to avoid weather reports and use words that act.
©2012 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved
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