Thursday, April 22, 2010

Power Up…With Verbs

Here are some writing tips from Nancy Burgess, our director of CHEM at Stinson Brand Innovation.

Suppose you only have an hour to write your paper, report, or assignment. Where should you focus your energy? On a good hook or lead paragraph?

Certainly your introduction is important. It should pull your reader into the copy. But the fastest way to improve your writing is to concentrate on your verbs (the action words of the sentence).

Powerful verbs help to tighten writing, making it concise. Compelling verbs can paint vivid images in the reader’s mind.

Inexperienced writers sprinkle their paragraphs with excessive adjectives and adverbs (describing words)—rather than focusing their attention on the verbs. These writers overuse the verb “to be” and its many forms (am, is, are, was, were).

One tipoff to anemic writing is the word “there.” Often when a sentence starts with “there” the words that follow will sound passive and weak.

Consider the sentence:

There was a boy who went into the room.

It uses the verb “to be” and too many words to describe what is happening. It’s not “wrong,” but it’s not strong.

Instead, the sentence could simply read:

The boy went into the room.

The second sentence is more concise. But the verb went (a form of “to go”) is not very interesting. To make writing more appealing, many inexperienced writers would change the sentence to read:

The happy boy went into the room. (adjective added)
The boy went quickly into the room. (adverb added)


Now, let’s try the same basic sentence while “powering up” the verb.

The boy sauntered into the room.
The boy strolled into the room.
The boy strode into the room.
The boy skipped into the room.

What if the boy sidled, tiptoed, stole, or marched into the room? Each of these verbs shares a slightly different picture of the boy’s mood or personality. By switching out just one word—the verb—of the sentence, the writer can share valuable information with the reader and maintain interest.

So power up your computer, then power up your verbs — and pump a bit more energy into your writing.

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