Verbs are where the action is. Verbs are also where you should put you attention if you want to improve your writing. Just like there are different types of details, there are different types of verbs. Let's take a look at three that influence writing quality and effectiveness.
3 verb forms and what to do with them
1. Reduce state-of-being verbs.
I've got a LOT to say about this verb form, which you can read here. But the quick-and-dirty is that when we reduce these SoBs, our writing is streamlined, clearer and easier to read. One caveat: Sometimes state-of-being verbs invoke a formality or gravity vital to conveying meaning, like this: Affordable housing in the region was already scarce; the number of homeless has now mounted.
2. Limit auxiliary/modal verbs.
These forms of speech sound fancy, but we use them so frequently that they don't do much good anymore – except to dilute the impact of whatever's around them. We use them so much that we hardly notice them, so they’re best caught during a revision pass expressly targeting them (hello, search and replace!). Delete them unless they need to be there for legal reasons, to create the right tone or rhythm, or because there is some doubt. Try to use “will” only when the action is expected in the future.
3. Emphasize visual verbs.
Visual verbs do double duty, conveying actions and how they are performed. Human body verbs (as William Faulkner called them) are especially vivid: choke, bled, fracture, belched, etc. Replacing less descriptive verbs with efficient ones reduces word count and boosts clarity, energy and impact.
A fast way to improve your writing
Here's a one-two punch to invigorate your content:
- Reduce total word count by 20% using any revision strategies you like. (Here's a bunch.)
- Do another pass expressly looking for verbs to weak verbs to replace with stronger, more visual ones
After a couple of months focusing on verbs, you internalize the habit and start seeing them pop up in your writing more organically!