Remove the Black

Posted by on December 1, 2010

Wednesday 1st, December 2010

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” — Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson’s quote has been thrown around quite a bit in academy classes. We use it to describe what we call black words.

Black words are the enemy of clarity.

Words not needed to get your point across.

Wikipedia describes them as “Weasel Words”

… some people say, it is believed, many are of the opinion, most feel, experts declare, it is often reported, it is widely thought, research has shown, science says, it was proven …”

Dr. Kevin Ryan, in his book Write up the Corporate Ladder, puts this idea into monetary terms.

What If You Paid a Dollar a Word?

One way to keep e-mails brief is to think of them as the twentieth-century equivalent of the nineteenth-century telegram (which they are). When telegrams cost a dollar a word and a dollar was a week’s pay, people quickly learned how to write clearly and concisely. If the telegram included more words than necessary, you were throwing away money. But there was danger either way: If the telegram was so brief that it didn’t make sense, you would have to spend more money to resend it. When writing e-mails at work, pretend you must pay a dollar for every word you type. You’ll use fewer words and save time on every e-mail you write.

Use this technique in your writing, you’ll save time and money.

Side note: As I wrote today’s bugle I saw how many black words I use. It’s difficult to write a first draft without black words. Get a first draft on the page and leave the weasel trapping for the rewrite.

Sean Taylor

Leave a Reply