Be It Resolved: Revise Your Business Prose!
If you’re looking for a career-oriented new year’s resolution, there is no better way to improve your professional skills right now, including your research and marketing skills, than to write better. You will write better proposals and better reports. You will turn data into stories that people actually want to read. And with some practice it is easy.
But so much is stacked against you, including your trusty tool and friend, your computer. Suppose you want a synonym for the simple word “want.” You right click to the drop down list of similar words. Poverty. Famine. Hunger. Need. Neediness. Absence. Lack. Dearth. All eight words are nouns. Three of them are also verbs. Contrast this with Roget’s Thesaurus (Fourth Edition, in print), which offers seven nouns and eight verbs. Back to your computer, right click on all kinds of words, and you will notice an overwhelming bias towards nouns, and a general assumption that the word you’ve clicked is a noun. (And how many of us really want to use the word “want” as a noun?!)
The problem is that nouns kill your writing. In the (mostly verbatim) words of an author I am about to recommend to you, nouns force us to assemble …
…strings of prepositional phrases glued together by that all-purpose epoxy “is.” A sentence’s verbal force is shunted into a noun and for a verb we make do with “is,” the neutral copulative, the weakest verb in the language. Such sentences project no life, no vigor. They just “are.” And the “is” generates those strings of prepositional phrases fore and aft. It’s so easy to fix. Look for the real action. Ask yourself, who’s kicking who? (Yes, I know, it should be whom, but doesn’t it sound stilted?)
Here’s the fix: A book called Revising Prose by Richard Lanham. Professor Lanham offers an 8-step “paramedic method” for fixing what you just wrote. I read this book and practiced it before going off to graduate school. I assigned it to my students when I began to teach. I can guarantee that the paramedic method works. It will improve your writing, and as the book jacket promises, it will “win you praise from bosses, colleagues, and clients” in part by shifting your focus from nouns to verbs.
Excellent writing is an often neglected piece of how great researchers turn mountains of data into stories that inspire. Resolve to revise your business prose, and you’ll start seeing your research make much more of a difference.