Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a friend called Vicky Ross, a talented coach, therapist and NLP Master Practitioner. We were talking about language, its fascinating patterns…and of course, that led me to thinking about how to improve writing skills.
Vicky helped me to better understand the idea of Nounitis. I’ve spoken about Nounitis in the past. It’s the overuse of nouns, particularly abstract ones.
To take you back to school with a quick reminder, a noun is a naming word, and the cure for Nounitis is Verbitis, or using more verbs than nouns. Verbs are words of action and doing.
Nounitis is rife in B2B communications. Someone might say “She has responsibility for the implementation of the project.” What the hell does that mean?
“Implementation” can mean so many different things. It’s a vague, abstract term.
I want to take you through a little exercise. I’m going to give you a series of words and I want you to observe how your brain computes those words. There will be three different types of words:
- tangible, concrete, common nouns (things you could put in a wheelbarrow)
- abstract nouns (adjectives or verbs that have turned into nouns)
- verbs (action words)
Are you ready?
Learn how to improve writing skills: an exercise
For each of the three types of words, I want you to observe what happens in your brain. Notice, too, how your body reacts.
First, the common nouns:
Just observe how your brain deals with those.
Now for some abstract nouns:
That’s the second list. Again, notice how you reacted to them.
And for the third list, verbs:
There you have three very different types of words.
What did you observe happening to your body when you read them?
When Vicky and I did this mini-exercise, I looked up to the right when she recited the abstract nouns. That’s how my body responded when trying to make sense of those words. The verbs seemed easier for me. I looked straight ahead or slightly to the left.
The point I’m making is that the common nouns are things we can see and touch. The abstract nouns are much harder to compute because they’re intellectual, abstract concepts and demand more processing power from the human brain. Since verbs are words of doing and action, they have movement attached to them.
Neither type of noun had movement. They were static. They didn’t go anywhere. There was no energy to them. In contrast, the verbs had energy — but you would expect that.
The benefits of Verbitis
There are two benefits when using more verbs than nouns. First, they literally give your writing more energy. Second, verbs conjure mental images in our brains, with little or no effort.
With abstract nouns, the brain has to work to associate some kind of image from our own experiences. That’s why verbs, Verbitis and curing Nounitis are so important if we want to improve our writing skills.
There’s one more point: the relationship between movement/motion and emotion. Static, abstract nouns — for me, at least — have no emotion attached to them. There’s neither motion nor emotion. Whereas the verbs lend themselves to emotion.
For example, if I gave you the abstract phrase, “freedom from slavery,” (two abstract nouns, “freedom” and “slavery”) I can say that I agree with that concept. Like most decent people, I don’t agree with slavery or servitude. Contrast the impact of that with the sentence, “The plantation owner unchained the slave and freed him.” I’m using more words, but I’m also using two verbs (“unchained” and “freed”). Clearly, I’m creating a picture, depicting a scene.
You might say we’re losing brevity — and of course we are — but I know which type of writing I’d prefer to read.
How to improve writing skills for better results
Using verbs and simple language while leavening and scaling down the amount of abstract language you use is going to improve your writing.
I hope this was useful information and that it will lead you to new ideas on how to improve your writing skills. I know it’s spurred me to learn more about NLP and patterns of language — particularly ‘nominalisation’, or turning words into nouns.
If you’re interested in learning more about my Big Five writing techniques, including Verbitis, connect with me on LinkedIn and join us for my LinkedIn webinar on the Big Five, on the 28th of July 2021.