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Kakistocracy means a country or society governed by its least competent citizens.
For example, “Keith took heart when he discovered the low number of kakistocracies in the world.”
Verbiage means speech or writing that uses too many words or excessively technical expressions.
This word is often used incorrectly as a synonym for words.
For example: “Keith was exhausted from reading all the verbiage in the white paper on computer networks.”
Equanimity means mental calmness, composure, especially in a difficult situation.
For example: “Keith prided himself on his equanimity when dealing with problematic clients.”
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”
– C. J. Cherryh
We are launching a Word of the Week feature on The Executive Writer Blog. Here are a few reasons why we’d like to invite you to learn a new word each week.
Words are metaphors for ideas. The more words you know, the more ideas you can clearly and succinctly present in any project you write.
Presenting your ideas clearly and succinctly is the main tenet of Plain Writing, which is a method every business writer should follow.
While you should never use a big or “million-dollar” word when a ten-dollar one will do, you should use a million-dollar word when only a million-dollar word will do.
It’s not a sin to make your reader open a dictionary to learn a new word and, thus, a new idea.
Use the following word when it precisely, and concisely, describes the idea you are trying to convey.
laconic : using very few words. Keith’s laconic email suggested a lack of interest in the topic.
Because acronyms are read and function as regular words, they are rarely preceded by an article—a, an, or the—in a sentence. However, when they are preceded by an article, choosing a, an, or the depends on how the sentence would sound when read aloud. For example:
“When NATO asked NASA to form a committee, a WHO director became chairperson.”
Because initialisms are read as a string of letters, they often take a, an, or the. For example:
“An MIT graduate was required to take a writing test at the FDA office.”
It’s actually quite simple: technical writing has technical content. That’s the bottomline. Your approach to technical writing should be the same approach you take to non-technical writing. Here is the “Checklist of the Writing Process” from the opening pages of the Handbook of Technical Writing: Establish your purpose, identify your audience, brainstorm, conduct research, outline your notes and ideas, adopt the appropriate style and tone, construct effective paragraphs. The list goes on, but it sounds familiar, right? That’s because it’s the same one you’ll find in any high school or college writing textbook. One problem with technical writing is that too many novice technical writers think that because technical subject matter is complicated, that writing about it should also be complicated. Not so. Don’t overcomplicate the skill of technical writing by thinking it’s complicated.
During an interview, professional business writer Marcus Buckingham said, “I don’t think about rules at all [while writing]. Split infinitives and so forth? I split infinitives all the time. I don’t care much about that stuff. I try to write aggressively, with purpose.”
Research backs up this approach. Mike Rose, Professor of Education at UCLA, came to this conclusion about the composing process of freshmen college students:
“There lies the irony. Students that offer the least precise rules and plans have the least trouble composing. The five students who experienced blocking were all operating either with writing rules or with planning strategies that impeded rather than enhanced the composing process. The five students who were not hampered by writer’s block also utilized rules, but they were… few and functional… less rigid ones.”
Professional writers only keep a handful of pragmatic, easy-to-apply rules in their heads while writing, such as, “Is what I just wrote clear?” “Does this idea logically flow from my previous idea?” “Can I write this more simply?” You should do the same.
Digital communications are addictive, which makes it easy for them to become the primary (and in some cases the only) way to interact with your team. Here’s an excellent reminder from the chapter on email writing in the Guide to Naval Writing. While it applies to managing people on ships, this sage advice is also germane to businesses.
“Although electronic communication is a part of a job, it’s not all of it. Yes, leadership is always embodied in words… However… leadership is a contact sport, especially on board ship. Get out into the work spaces, among your people. Don’t succumb to the temptation to try to lead from your desk.”
“Each patient must be told upfront how much they will pay for an office visit.” The pronoun they refers back to patient. But patient is singular and they is plural. According to the “rules,” pronouns and their antecedents must agree in number—so what gives?
Not that long ago, this sentence would have been written: “Each patient must be told upfront how much he will pay for an office visit.” But we don’t know if the gender of the patient is a he or a she. Those in charge of the English language have never created a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to a gender-neutral noun, so over the centuries, writers relied on their writer’s intuition to do what they felt was correct in a given situation.
In the last few years, however, several of the powers that be in the world of the English language chose the word they as the gender-neutral pronoun.
The American Dialect Society’s website states that 200 of its linguists “voted for they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun as the Word of the Year for 2015. They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she…. The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen.”
The editors of Time magazine noted that “they is now a recognized and grammatically correct singular pronoun.”
The Washington Post style guide, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and the Oxford Dictionary all recognize the singular they as a gender-neutral pronoun. Merriam-Webster points out that “the word they (with its counterparts them, their, and themselves) as a singular pronoun to refer to a person of unspecified gender has been used since at least the 16th century.”
Several gender-neutral pronouns have been invented (ne, ve, ey, ze, and xe), but they have not caught on and never will because they sound like a foreign language and look odd in an English sentence: When the student finished reading the book, ne took a long walk. (with ne taking the place of he or she)