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200 words guaranteed to improve your writing 22 September, 2008

Posted by Jay Ball in Uncategorized.
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I’m getting ready to run one of our in-house training sessions (Banner Academies). This time it’s devoted to offering tips, tricks and techniques to help our people write better.

Regardless of what you do in marketing, the written word is pretty fundamental to how effective you’ll be – whether with peers, customers or partners. And, if you write in English, you’ve got plenty of words to choose from.

Give or take a few thousand, there are about 170,000 words in active use on a daily basis. Not bad when you consider that the vast majority stem from a palette of just 26 letters.

But all too often, the incredible flexibility of English just goes bad. Take the following:

By taking a strategic, disciplined, enterprise-wide approach to aligning, managing and measuring learning and development initiatives, organisations ensure that their people have the right skills and knowledge to perform at 
their best.

XPROD* is the most comprehensive solution available to address the strategic mandates of the learning organisation – to deliver effective formal and informal learning that is tied to clear business outcomes and strategic human capital management initiatives.

* Company name changed to protect the guilty

I came across this while researching a project for one of our clients. My first thought was: that’s terrible. My second: that’s great, it represents almost every mistake in technology writing today. Too complex. Too much business-speak. Too little meaning. Too many words.

The thing is, just because you have 170,000 words, it doesn’t mean you have to use them. In fact, over 80% of all the words most English speakers use every day come from a list of just 200.

When you consider that effective communication is about what your audience takes out rather than what you put in, keeping it simple, clear and compelling is the only way to guarantee your success.

And for those of you who want to know, the 200 in order of frequency are:

the of and a to in he have it that for they I with as not on she at by this we you do but from or which one would all will there say who make when can more if no man out other so what time up go about than into could state only new year some take come these know see use get like then first any work now may such give over think most even find day also after way many must look before great back through long where much should well people down own just because good each those feel seem how high too place little world very still nation hand old life tell write become here show house both between need mean call develop under last right move thing general school never same another begin while number part turn real leave might want point form off child few small since against ask late home interest large person end open public follow during present without again hold govern around possible head consider word programme problem however lead system set order eye plan run keep face fact group play stand increase early course change help line

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