Nouns Take My Breath Away

21 January 2010

Word count:  510                                   

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

 

Photo by Andreas – used by permission.

This is a test

Ready to try the breath test that we talked about last week?

Here’s the sentence from the comic:

 In today’s interdependent economy,

effective global communication and collaboration are essential to

the achievement of lasting organisational

competitiveness and success.

Hey, it’s only 20 words long – not too bad, right?  But if you can read that with only one breath, then your lungs are better than mine!

 

Running out of mental ‘steam’

Even more important than the breath test, though, reading long sentences also makes me run out of mental ‘steam’.  My brain gets tired trying to process all the information. 

 

Why is that?  I think the problem is with the nouns. 

 

There are six nouns in that sentence: economy, communication, collaboration, achievement, competitiveness and success.  Yep – six rather long words that literally take my breath away.

 

A love affair

And writers love to use long, intelligent-sounding nouns.

 

Use them and you’re sure to impress.  They sound formal and business-like.  Maybe that’s why they’re so popular.  Everyone wants to sound intelligent. 

 

But there’s a difference between sounding intelligent and being intelligent.

 

How can I be intelligent?

Consider a ‘typical’ sentence (subject-verb-object), which usually has only two or three nouns.  For example: My sister lives in a beautiful neighbourhood.   

 

Of course, that’s a very simple sentence.  What if you need to express a more complex idea?  Can you do that with shorter words?

 

Absolutely!

 

Let’s go back to the sentence above and see how.

 

1.  Find the main idea in the sentence.  In this one, it’s about how to compete and succeed in an interdependent economy.

 In today’s interdependent economy, effective global

communication and collaboration are essential to

the achievement of lasting organisational

competitiveness and success.

[20 words: 6 nouns, 1 weak verb]

 

2.  Replace as many nouns as possible with strong verbs.

To compete and succeed in an interdependent economy,

your organisation must effectively communicate and collaborate globally.

[17 words: 2 nouns, 4 strong verbs]

 

The new version has only 3 fewer words than the original sentence.  But it passes the breath test, because the words are shorter and easier to say.

 

The new version also has 4 strong verbs compared to 1 weak verb in the original.  And strong verbs are more mentally engaging than nouns.  They help the main ideas stick in a reader’s mind.

 

And for busy people who already have too much to read and remember, you’ll want to make that as easy as possible for them.  That’s really being intelligent!

 

Try it yourself

This is a good sentence for you to practise writing.  The basic form is this:

 You (Your organisation) must X to Y.

OR

To Y, you (your organisation) must X.

 

Write some sentences using this structure.  Use strong verbs for both X and Y.

 

If you want, share your example sentences in the comments -- or email them to me (writewithtaste@me.com) for feedback.

Copyright 2014 DeGolyer Associates Ltd |  Contact Deborah at:  writewithtaste@me.com