Adding words to add emphasis weakens your message

friday, 6 july of 2007

One secret to power writing:

Adding Words to Add Emphasis Weakens Your Message

“This subject is very, very important.”

Or, I should say, “This subject is important.”

Every day on radio and TV news, we hear anchors try to make what they say sound important.  During ratings periods, it’s even worse because their subjects must be both important and sensational!

Twenty years ago every subject was said to be “important.”  Ten years ago every subject became “very important.”  Five years ago every subject became “very, very important.”

Today, any subject is “very, very essential” -- or, equally as bad, “very, very unique.”

The same is true for medical conditions.  Anchors once described an accident victim as “in critical condition.”  Today, that’s not enough.  Now we often hear “extremely critical condition.”

Who is more critical?  Someone in critical condition?  Or someone in extremely critical condition?

As we work harder and harder to make our point -- in ways that emphasize its importance -- we usually add more and more words.  And that’s the problem:

RYDER’S IRONY OF EMPHASIS:  The more words you add to strengthen your point, the more you weaken it.

If a patient is critical, he’s critical.  If a subject is important, it’s important.  It doesn’t become more important by saying it’s “very, very important.”  And, in fact, “very, very” takes emphasis away from “important” by distracting you from the one key word.

Lean writing is crisp and clean.  Your writing grows more powerful as you use short words.  Short sentences.  Short paragraphs.  And you dramatically improve the power of your message by ruthlessly slashing adjectives and adverbs.

Dramatically?  Ruthlessly?  Should I have cut those words?

“Dramatically” is the level of improvement, so I like dramatically.

But “ruthlessly”?  You could delete “ruthlessly” and not lose anything because “slashing” tells the story.

See how it’s done?  Challenge each word in your sentences.  If a word doesn’t help, it hurts because it gets in the way of what you want to say.

This next week, look at letters, articles or columns you write.  When you see adjectives and adverbs, read the sentence without them and see what you think.  You might conclude they’re necessary -- or you might like the sentence better without them.

You win no points for adding more words.  What’s important is how well you communicate.  And in many cases, less is more.

© Trey Ryder

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