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Stop Being Boring. Why Use One Word When Two Work So Well?

Remember last week’s professional writing tip about cutting down on your word count? Well, this week’s is about upping it with some well-placed, exciting extras.

Confusing, right?

In my defense, I did say that:

Sometimes the extra vocabulary choices we use might not add logical meaning so much as emotional meaning. Or perhaps they make the copy flow smoother.

Essentially, they make your writing more engaging. And engaging your readers is a huge deal.

Take the statement, “I heard a song on the radio yesterday.”

As statements go, there’s little to criticize. It’s grammatically correct, and it conveys information.

Good job.

But not “great job.” Because, while there’s nothing negative that stands out about the sentence, there’s also nothing positive that stands out. As I like to say about style choices when the situation calls for it, “I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. It exists.”

And don’t you want more out of your written copy than for it to merely exist? (Hint: The answer should be a resounding “Yes!)

If you’re working on a book, it should keep readers wanting to turn the pages.

If we’re talking about an advertisement, it should make viewers want to take further action.

If it’s a corporate communication, client-oriented report, newsletter, e-letter, blog post or – really – any other piece of writing, it should make an impression. In which case, it needs to evoke interest.

That’s why using two words instead of one sometimes can be such a great tool.

Back to that original sentence, for example, I could jazz it up with just one added word: “I heard an encouraging song on the radio yesterday.”

Makes it a little bit more intriguing with that adjective added in, right? And if I include not only an adjective but an adverb too – “I heard a truly encouraging song on the radio yesterday” – it becomes even more so.

Obviously, I can take the whole add-words-to-increase-engagement trick a little – or a lot – too far. There is a point where a sentence gets overloaded with additions, turning it from exciting to weird, annoying or confusing. Moreover, you want to offset wordy statements with shorter ones to maximize their effect:

I’ve been discouraged by the seemingly never-ending barrage of negative-news headlines lately. It’s inescapable. It’s depressing. And it’s getting me down.

That is to say it was getting me down. My attitude has shifted significantly since I heard a truly encouraging song on the radio yesterday.

Out of the six sentences listed above, four of them are direct and three of them are very direct. Short, sweet and to the point. No fluff allowed.

As such, they make the two longer, more flowery sentences really pop!

That’s the beauty of variation, even if it does admittedly complicate these professional writing tips.

So here’s hopefully a better way of looking at the issue of word count…

Use your best judgement. Evaluate each sentence as it comes along.

And if all else fails, get an editor.


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