Linguistic Precision

WRITTEN March 26, 2012 Author: Rich Atkins

Linguistic Precision = Less Explaining LaterFacebook

“If you want to try a good dish at the restaurant, order the ‘Linguistic Precision.’  It’s not bad!”

What does “good” really mean here? What does “bad” mean? Help your audience. Choose exact words to express your idea. That’s linguistic precision.

Nice,” “good,” and “bad” are vaguedescriptive words. They don’t tell your audience anything. On the other hand, we can use more accurate substitutes for “nice” and “good.” Say you are sharing information on a business lunch. You can describe the lunch as “delicious”, instead of “good”. Let your listener know that the waiter was “friendly” instead of just “nice.”

If you ask an employee or coworker to “Do a good job with that …,” we all understand that you want a high degree of quality, but “good” in his/her eyes, and “good” in your eyes may be two VERY different things–because the words are so subjective.

Instead, we can say something like: “Be careful with this month’s expense report, making sure that all receipts are submitted with it.” Does this give us a better idea of what “good” is? It certainly does! Also, it reduces the need to explain and redo the work later.

“Can” versus “May”
“Can” is the ability to do something. “May” implies asking permission. People sometimes misuse these.

  • “You can’t park here!” Incorrect, because one is able to park there. It’s better said as, “You’re not allowed to park here.”
  • “It’s not too heavy.” More helpful to say “I can lift it.”
  • “May I help you?” It is always good to ask permission.

“State” is different from “believe” or “feel”
You can clearly identify what someone has stated.  It’s not as easy to determine how a person feels about something.

  • The author stated (or said) that she believes in the power of being positive.
  • The author feels that people should … (we may not necessarily know how a person feels or what s/he believes. Here, we can more accurately say, “It seems as if she feels …”)

This information is from the Improving Communications Effective Business Writing training curriculum. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Assink

Other Resources:

What Words Are These?

Linguistic Precision and It’s Beauty

How to Choose the Right Words

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