Writing Tips

Writing Techniques

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Barbra and the Woolly Mammoth

The Power of People! The Case for Putting People in Your Writing

I’m sure many of you read about the archaeological find along a windswept slope of peat and heather on Scotland’s Isle of Skye: the jawbone and tusk of a woolly mammoth dating from the mid-Pleistocene, which places it tens of thousands of years before the Sumerians chiseled the tale of Gilgamesh into clay tablets. This is significant because lining the jawbone nine feet out to the tip of the tusk appear tiny, consistent scratches from a life form not quite animal, but not yet human. Curiously, not one of the crude sentences describes a living creature doing something. Things happen by themselves. Archaeological linguists theorize that prehistoric “writers” constructed sentences like this because people had not yet been invented. A small sampling:

hanging, please find t-rex t-shirts
boiling, please find aardvark egg
impaled, please find bernie
no more carving on tusk until bernie extricated

As eons passed, animal bone became cave walls became clay tablets became the foreheads of Babylonian slaves. As recording methods evolved to parchment then papyrus, we see a few “people” appear in stories, doing the boiling of the eggs and the extricating of the fallen. But soon individuals grew into societies, then whole civilizations, and humans slowly recognized themselves as “people,” and they realized that people needed other people, and that that alone made them perhaps the luckiest people in the world. Concurrent with that realization, scribes recognized that things did not happen by themselves, that someone had to do them. But despite this historic revelation, the penchant of our pre-historic ancestors to inscribe sentences without people continues to suffuse our writing today. Things happen, but no one does them.

With seven billion “people” now on the planet to do things, we should all be amazed at how many professionals work hard to avoid using even one word that refers to a person. Things get attached, enclosed, needed, completed, performed, and worked on without one person in sight. It’s like robots do half of the business in this country. Or magic.

Attached, please find a letter of apology.
It is not possible to email a Word document containing suggested but not yet accepted edits.
It might not be necessary to hire an in-house attorney.
We hope the enclosed materials will be of interest.

The next time you write: “Significant progress has been made,” ask yourself, Who’s made the progress? and instead write, “Deirdre and Samantha have made significant progress.”

Or: “It has been a pleasure to work with . . . .” Who’s found it a pleasure? “I have enjoyed working with . . . .”

Or: “Steps are being taken to resolve . . . .” Who’s taking steps? “Rolf Rosenthal is working to resolve . . . .”

Or: “Our goal is to continually provide . . . .” That might be our goal, but what about us? “We at Zimex will continue to provide . . . .”

Whether you write to clients, customers, or colleagues, putting people in your sentences is the easiest way to enliven your writing. Or as someone else put it – who doesn’t matter – when you put people in your writing, a feeling deep in your soul says you were half now you’re whole. I have to go now; my tongue is stuck in my cheek.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.