Blog in 04 2012.
If you follow our Twitter account (@TheWriter), you might have spotted a little rant we had last night about people misusing reflexive pronouns.
Candidates were flinging ‘yourself’ and ‘myself’ around willy-nilly, where a normal person would’ve just said ‘you’ or ‘me’. It might seem small, but there’s a behemoth of a problem behind it. In business, it seems people feel they have to make everything more complicated than it really is. Even pronouns.
People in power, on the other hand, don’t. Have a listen to Alan, Nick and Karren next week. They’re usually the only ones making any sense.
Let’s start at the beginning: when we write, we write about things happening.
And things don’t just happen. Other things cause them to happen.
A hot food tax doesn’t just magically poof into existence. David Cameron makes it happen.
Candidates aren’t just suddenly fired. Alan Sugar fires them.
This blog isn’t just in a state of having been written. I bloody wrote it.
But here’s the weird thing: a lot of businesses try to cut David Cameron, Alan Sugar and me out of their writing. And as a result, it becomes completely unreadable.
The good news is it’s a really easy fix: just stop cutting out the doer.
Here’s what’ll happen to your writing (without you even realising it):
You’ll use the active voice instead of the passive
If you force yourself to say who’s doing something, that something can’t just be done. Cameron does it. I do it. Sugar does it.
Active verbs are shorter than passive verbs (do vs be done), and much more exact.
You’ll use more verbs
If you take the doer out of your writing you open the floodgates for nouns ending -tion, -sion, -ance, -ence, -ing and -ment. They’re impersonal and totally unnecessary. Take this, for example:
The utilisation of 3G is increasing
Much better as: People are using more 3G broadband
The stats show that turning those kinds of noun into verbs makes your writing easier to read. (If you don’t believe me, Google ‘Robert and Veda Charrow’.)
You won’t have to call people names they don’t like
Like ‘customer’ or ‘stakeholder’. They’re just ‘you’.
And as a result, people won’t fall asleep after the first sentence
Like you will if you try to read this doer-less paragraph I stumbled across on the web, which conveniently makes all my points for me:
The utilisation of health research in policy-making should contribute to policies that may eventually lead to desired outcomes, including health gains. In this article, exploration of these issues is combined with a review of various forms of policy-making. When this is linked to analysis of different types of health research, it assists in building a comprehensive account of the diverse meanings of research utilisation.
With a doer, it looks like this:
If policy-makers take health research on board, they’ll hit their goals. Like improving the nation’s health. In this article, we’ve taken that hypothesis and looked into different ways of creating a policy and different types of health research. It’s helped us build a full idea of the different ways policy-makers can use research.
So there you have it. Always ask yourself one little question: who? It’s the bad writing cure-all.
After reading this article about Cowbird, a new website where you share real-life stories, I was put off by the founder Jonathan Harris’ gushing comments. He talks about how the website aims to ‘create a Wikipedia of life experience’ by ‘building a community that’s dedicated to a deeper, slower, longer-lasting kind of self-expression’ than the fast pace of Twitter and Facebook. I couldn’t work out if he was being serious or not.
Despite this I carried on reading. When describing the thinking behind the name Cowbird, he says he wanted to ‘combine the traits’ of the two animals: the ‘contemplative grounded presence’ of a cow and the ‘very fast and free’ nature of a bird. At this point I had to see how bad this website was so I could snigger some more. But when I Googled it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Have a look and tell us what you think.
We’ve been blogging about how the people on The Apprentice use formal guff to sound serious and business-like. (An exception being Jenna who just comes out with anything. This week’s choice comment being ‘bins are good ’cos we can funk them up to make funky bins’.)
This week the two teams had to buy, sell and ‘upcycle’ junk. Now you’re probably wondering what jargon cave ‘upcycle’ crawled out from. So was I. Turns out it’s recycling with a twist. The twist being you have to add value to second-hand stuff.
But judging by what they were doing in the episode, upcycling means buying second-hand furniture, stencilling Union Jacks all over it and then selling it for far too much money. Another way of upcycling old tat was to glue wooden legs to suitcases to make mini tables. But only Sterling went down this route.
Phoenix were more cautious with what they bought, making po-faced project manager Tom seem like the fussiest shopper ever. But he had a plan; quality rather than quantity. And to justify the half-empty – or should I say half-full – shop, Tom described it as minimalist rather than empty.
Good use of language to cover a lack of things to sell? You tell us.
Every now and then we set a little writing task for our Twitter followers. This time, one of those followers got sick of waiting for us to do it and started one herself. So this blog is brought to you by @jennyjustjenny. (You should follow her. She’s funny.)
On with the stories:
Shouty men judge a cooking contest.
Misery, melodrama, failures sucking at life.
Take Me Out
Screeching women. Meat market. Beautiful pair?
Steptoe and Son
Life stifled by ‘dirty old man’.
‘Make something!’ ‘I'm amazing!’ ‘You're fired!’
‘Are you gonna turn around, Tom?’
Financial crisis, war, death, skateboarding dog.
The Good Life
‘Don't bleed in the sink, Jerry.’
Intense. Intense. Intense. Intense. Blonde! Bipolar!
And two we’re not sure about (any ideas?)
Owls are not what they seem.
Muscle Mary with cat. Not gay?