Active words, flaccid words
The strongest kind of news writing–and writing in general, really–uses strong, active words and imagery. When given a choice between verbs that convey movement or action (even if you’re writing about a school board meeting or something equally uninspiring) or words that are static or bureaucratic, always pick the more active.
For example, this is the limp, lame, motionless version:
School board president Martin Smith questioned Superintendant Barbara Jones about a new school bullying initiative, and requested more information about the district’s planned implementation.
And this is the active, vivid version:
School board president Martin Smith grilled Superintendent Barbara Jones about a new school bullying initiative, and pressed for more information on the district’s plans to put it into effect.
The differences are pretty obvious. “Grilled” evokes action much more strongly than “questioned,” “pressed” creates a stronger picture in the mind’s eye than “requested,” and “put it into effect” is much more conversational than the bureaucratic-sounding “planned implementation.”
Here’s a list of words and phrases I consider red flags for weak, flaccid or wordy writing (allowing that all of them may have their place at times):
- all the ‘to be’ forms: is, are, will, was, etc.
- this, that, these, those (use ‘the’–it’s less corny-sounding)
- in relation to
- as the result of
- in response to
- when it comes to
Please add a comment below if you’d like to nominate your own ‘red flag’ word or phrase.