Writing concretely means being specific, definite, and vivid rather than vague and general. The specific words are accurate and clear; while generalizations may be misleading or confusing. Concrete words are not only specific; they also refer directly to one or more of our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) or to tangible objects and individuals, thus helping readers visualizing the messages conveyed. They contrast with abstract words. The following guidelines should help you write concretely:
1. Use Specific Facts and Figures
Whenever you can substitute an exact fact or a figure for a general word to make your message more concrete and convincing, do so.
Vague, general and indefinite Concrete and convincing
These brakes stop my car within a These Goodson power brakes stop my car
short distance. travelling 100 km an hour, within 75 meters.
Please send your check for the full Please send your check for $800 on or before
amount soon. June 5, 2014.
Our raincoats are very special. Our raincoats are made of high-tech materials
and have undergone special treatment, which
can prevent shrinkage, color-fading and is durable.
With the latest designs and varieties of colors, our
raincoats are warmly welcome by our customers.
I have a lot of transportation My experience in the field of transportation
experience. includes two years as a clerk for the CAAC
and almost three years as a dispatcher for
Often vague, general words are opinion words; they may have different meanings to the sender and the receiver. For instance, how fast is fast? How large is large? Different people have different interpretations. The list that follows gives words which can lead to uncertainty, misunderstanding, or confusion.
a few how most several small
high many nice short soon
large more quick slow tall
Using plenty of examples, prefixed by phrases like “for instance,” “for example,” “such as,” also helps make your writing concrete as well as clear.
In certain cases it is, of course, permissible and even desirable to use general expressions. Exceptions to the “facts and figures” rule occur:
2. Put action in your verbs
Strong verbs can activate other words and help make your sentences definite. To write strong sentences, you should (1) use active rather than passive verbs most of the time and (2) put action in your verbs instead of in nouns or infinitives.
Active versus passive voice
When the subject performs the action which the verb expresses, the verb is said to be in the active voice. When the subject benefits from or otherwise receives the action the verb expresses, the verb is said to be in the passive voice. Generally, in business English writing, you should use active rather than passive verbs, because active verbs help make your sentences more:
Occasionally, however, you may prefer the passive voice instead of the active, as the following situations:
Action in verbs, not in nouns
Eight verbs – be, give, have, hold, make, put, undertake and take might be designated as “deadly” because the action they introduce is hidden in a “quiet noun.” The examples below show how these “deadly” verbs can be changed to active verbs which shorten the sentences.
Action hiding in a “quiet noun” Action in the verb
The function of this office is the collection of This office collects accounts and
accounts and the compilation of statements. compiles statements.
Mr. Jones will give consideration to the report. Mr. Jones will consider the report.
The contract has a requirement that … The contract requires that …
He made his first installment payment. He paid his first instalment.
The chairperson puts her trust in each The chairperson trusts each
committee member. Committee member.
The manager undertook implementation The manager implemented the
of the rules. rules.
Watch for nouns that end in –ion, -tion, -ing, -ment, -ant, -ent, -ence, -ance, and –ency. These endings often hide verbs. Using verbs can help you to present the information more forcefully.
Action in verbs, not in infinitives
Action can also be concealed by infinitives. For example:
A stenographer checks and records all incoming mail and keeps the assignment book up to date.
3. Choose vivid, image-building words
Among the devices you can use to make your messages forceful, vivid, and specific are figurative language, and well-chosen adjectives and adverbs.
Figures of speech often express an idea more vividly than literal language. For example:
Jean Jones is the spark plug of the organization. (Figurative)
If two chins quarrel constantly for a place on your collar, X product helps settle the argument. Only one chin remains after you use X just four weeks as directed. (Figurative)
However, you must be careful not to use figurative speech which can be interpreted negatively or which sounds confusing or inappropriate.
In addition, you can often build a more realistic and interesting word picture by adding well-chosen adjectives and adverbs. Examples:
Colourless Realistic, vivid, interesting
The camera has a system that gives The Poney camera has an uncannily precise
you good pictures. metering system that assures you properly
exposed, true-colour pictures.
The cookware is guaranteed to Because Creston cookware can withstand
withstand changes in temperature. extreme changes in heat and cold, the
guarantee assures you that you can safely
move any piece from your freezer to your
In your search for vivid, picture-building words, be careful not to go to extremes with adjectives and be careful with superlatives such as “the most,” “the largest”, “the greatest,” and “the best” to avoid over exaggeration.