Tag Archives: language

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Strong Language

Use fewer, stronger words to make your grant applications, reports and proposals more successful and effective.

I see so many documents that use soft, cushiony words instead of strong, emphatic words.  Not using strong language in a proposal offers an opportunity for the recipient to say NO, or at least not make a decision.  Using soft terms in a report diminishes the results and accomplishments.  Using weak words in a grant application make you seem hesitant or unsure of the effort/organization for which you seek funding.  Not using strong words is not only a wasted opportunity; it can also have long term impact on funding and perception.

By using weak words, people often use too many words.  Too many words can be perceived as propping up a lame idea or program.  Often you are limited in how many words you can include in a grant application or report.  The reason for the limit is to ensure the writer is succinct.  Weak wording almost always results in excess words.

Another impact of both more words and weak words is that the reader will not read everything you write.  This can result in them not having full understanding of what you are proposing or reporting.  Ask yourself how often you have stopped reading something because your brain froze-up due to the wording and length.

You probably do not even realize that you are using weak words or that you are too wordy.  So here are some examples of ways to strengthen and shorten your message.

  • Instead of saying “will give students an opportunity to . . .” replace will give with
  • In place of shows use demonstrates
  • Replace this sentence: We expect that they will generate insights that will help improve operations

With this: We will gather insights from Key Stakeholders that will improve operations.

  • Instead of: We are requesting funding for training because without a comprehensive understanding of how a human services agency should operate in order to meet the purpose and goals of the agency, staff will not be working at their optimum and most effective level.

Try this:  The requested funding will finance staff training that will improve their efficiency and increase the effectiveness of our services.

  • Substitute for:  This study will attempt to gain an understanding of the community needs and obstacles through a comprehensive community engagement and input effort.

This:  This study will gather pertinent data on needs and obstacles through interviews and focus groups.

  • Another example of wordy to impactful.
  • Wordy:  Using a carefully crafted process, we will lead the Board through an assessment that will result in the discovery of the obstacles and misunderstandings that inhibit the realization of our organization’s goals.

Impactful:  We will use our proven evaluation process to help the Board identify the actions necessary to accomplish our goals.

 

Here are a few examples of weak, unsure words and phrases:

  • Will attempt to (just use will)
  • In an effort to (again, just use will, or maybe pair will with a strong verb such as the ones below)
  • Plan to collect (replace plan to with will)
  • Try
  • Attempt

 

And here are some strong, confident words:

  • Provide
  • Demonstrate
  • Obtain
  • Impact
  • Direct
  • Add
  • Present
  • Outcomes
  • Effect

 

Remember these things the next time your write something important.

  • Fluff does not enhance
  • Extra words do not increase the impact of the statement
  • Brevity is powerful
  • Direct has impact
  • Verbs are stronger than verb phrases
  • Confidence convinces
  • Get to the point
  • And never, ever whine!
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But That’s Not What I Meant

Words can persuade.  Words can hurt.  Words can calm.  Words matter.

Whether it’s convincing, providing services/care, managing a project or anything else in operating an agency or organization – words matter.  Here are 3 ways to use words to your advantage.

Know your client’s/donor’s language

Words do not always mean the same thing to everyone.  Take the word superficial as an example.  To someone in the medical profession a superficial wound means something not very serious, a surface injury.  Outside of the medical community, if we describe a person as superficial we think they are shallow.  If we think a situation is superficial we consider it insignificant.  So to an ER doctor a wound that is superficial is good; to a client whose need is called superficial by your program manager, it is an insult.  If you do not understand the lingo of your clients/donors you run the risk of insulting them or being misunderstood.  It does take research and listening to know the language of others, but the effort can set you apart from funding competitors and help you accomplish your mission.

Use language your partners understand

If you believe the premise in the previous paragraph then you probably think that your partners should make the effort to know your language and you would be right.  However, if they don’t you will suffer.  Here is an illustration:  You are on the road and almost get hit by another car.  You think, if we wreck it will be the other person’s fault.  You may be right, but you will still be in a wreck.  If you are the lead on a project/program and your partners do not understand your need, time-frame or whatever you could suffer if you do not adjust.  A good truth to remember is that just because someone should does not mean they will.

Speak softly and carry a big stick

Or as my Grandmother used to say, sugar catches more flies than vinegar.  If you start out using kind words you are likely to get cooperation.  If you do not get cooperation then you can resort to stiffer language.  If you start out with vinegary words you may get cooperation or at least action.  But if you do not get what you need, you are at a disadvantage.  Do you use tougher language or do you try to drop back and use nice language?  The typical tactic is to get tougher.  Then even if you get what you want, you usually don’t feel like a winner.  And what happens next time, because if you started out with vinegary words there will likely not be a next time.

In closing let me give you an extreme example to help you remember that words matter.  In South Carolina, my home state, and in some other Southern states the word “Shag” is a dance done to beach music.  In England the word “shag” is a slang expression for sex.  I’ll let you think of ways this word could cause embarrassment, confusion, insult or amusement.  But you get the point — if you don’t understand the other person’s language the outcome will not likely be what you want it to be.

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