Cartoon artist painting on an easel to illustrate The Language Lab's a thousand words blog post.

The cliché would have it that a picture is worth a thousand words. No doubt, it’s the reason organizations spend large sums of money perfecting their corporate identities. But a picture isn’t the only powerful tool at hand when it comes to promoting client recognition of a corporation/company. Images, such as logos, especially those belonging to Starbucks or the New York Yankees, immediately recognizable, also tell a story. Just as these logos are the symbols of corporate identities, slogans and tag lines also conjure up images and ideas in our minds. Off the top of my head, here are half a dozen that easily come to mind:

Nike: Just do it.
McDonalds: I’m lovin’ it
Scotiabank: You’re richer than you think
Home Hardware: Home of the handyman
Volkswagen: Das Auto
Taco Bell: Think outside the bun

These slogans are just a few examples of how words create an image or appeal to our emotions to reinforce an idea or a concept. But there are times, e.g. when you’re trying to describe a service or to explain a complicated situation, when more than just a few words are needed to capture your audience’s attention. However, when these more detailed communications are poorly written, they simply don’t work. I am sure you, as I, frequently receive pitches selling services or promoting a company’s latest products. Many of these are so badly written I won’t waste my time reading them — I just click “delete.” To avoid this practice happening to your business communications consider the following.

 

How to Paint a Picture with Words

1. Precision: Precise words have the ability to paint a picture, to explain a situation. When writing instructions or technical documents, precision is key. As you decide which word to use in your written communication, ask yourself, “Is this the most accurate word, the one that best conveys my meaning?” Just like your mother may have told you, when you were a kid, “Go to the dictionary and look it up!”

2. Power: Action-oriented verbs are one of the keys to strong written communication. You can find many of these verb lists online. Here’s one from Harvard University. And be sure to use verb forms over noun forms. Avoid nominalizations! “So what’s a nominalization?” you ask. Compare the following two sentences, taken from a smart and funny New York Times opinion piece called “Zombie Nouns.”

“The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.”

Versus:

“Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.”

3. Persuasion: As always, with all business communication, your audience comes first. Ask yourself. What kind of language is appropriate for my audience? How can I connect with them? What images, that will best resonate with that audience, can I paint with my words?

The three principles above will certainly help steer your communications, in the right direction. You might also have a look at Ten Tips to Effective Business Writing for a few more ideas.

Remember, although a picture may have an immediate impact on its audience, it’s also true that a thousand well chosen words can explain a complex situation in a way that a picture never could.

Do you need help creating powerful business communications? Contact The Language Lab: info@thelanguagelab.ca

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