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    Good Is Bad

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Suppose a White House official states that talks between two countries have been good or a financial analyst decides that a particular economic indicator is interesting or a food critic claims that the chef's presentations are fun. Each claim is frustratingly vague because it contains an overused adjective - good, interesting, or fun.

    Here are a few more of these empty adjectives: big, pretty, small, cute, bad, nice, dumb, great, little, and funny. Using any one of these words in your writing is like seasoning your food with a pinch of salt: it does little, if anything, to distinguish your thoughts and ideas.

    Note these excerpts from business writing that contain overused adjectives:

    • Vague: Since you were my supervisor at Pacific Way Hospital, a recommendation letter from you would be great.
    • Clearer: Since you were my supervisor at Pacific Way Hospital, a recommendation letter from you would help Ms. Hernandez appreciate my skills and experiences.

    • Fuzzy: During a routine inspection of work on Thursday, March 20, at 10:45 a.m., I found undercoater Bob Irving in a bad situation.
    • Clearer: During a routine inspection of work on Thursday, March 20, at 10:45 a.m., I found undercoater Bob Irving struggling to breathe underneath the truck he was working on.

    • Hazy: In your letter, you described your building plan and asked that I advise you on the next step. I studied the plan and found it interesting. However,…
    • Clearer: In you letter, you described your building plans and asked that I advise you on how to proceed. I studied the plan and found it a practical way to expand your restaurant seating. However,…

    When the words you use help create productive letters and reports, then you have used the right ones. However, if you're not sure about your word choice, check for overused adjectives, among other things. Substitute specific words or phrases for any vague ones that you find, or recast the sentences to ensure that your writing is clear and distinctive.

    Note: See Write for Business for more information about word choice.

     - Dave Kemper