One of our popular webinars, Writing That Sells!, helps business riders persuade with words and expressions that motivate readers to act. And when business writers talk quantity or quality, as they often do in marketing and advertising, do they always take measure of the words they use? We suggest you get creative with your writing that sells, but also take measure of some fact- and number-related word choices.
Over, More Than:
One of the most common misuses of quantitative words is “over.” For example, “we sold over 200 cars last month.” Sure, the number of cars sold was greater than 200, but use of the word over brings to mind a car jumping a line of other cars at a Monster Truck rally. The word “over” technically means across or a physical action – as in running over the goal line or knocking the trash can over.
When you list numbers, you really need to instead use “more than” or a similar word that suggests quantity. “We interviewed more than a dozen applicants.”
Fewer, Less (Than):
These opposites of “more” also present some confusion. Do you say we have fewer applicants this quarter or less applicants? The way to tell is to remember whether the noun to which you’re referring (in this case, applicants) is a noun that you can count. You clearly can count the applicants; picture them in a line-up, if you will, and count each individual. Fewer is correct in this case. If you have trouble remembering, just picture three of the applicants leaving the lineup. You now have fewer people to count.
Less usually refers to items you can’t count, but in which you can see a difference. An example would be the water in the bottle atop your office water cooler. By lunchtime, 10 or 20 employees have come in and refilled their glasses or drinking bottles and the water level has gone down in the bottle. You don’t have fewer water, but less water. Less is a word to describe volume.
So, here is another way to remember: Let’s say you take some space from your break room to add a new storage closet. The break room now has less space. Having less space might have cut how many tables you can fit for eating lunch. So, you have fewer tables in less space.
This one also confuses many business writers. Again, it often comes down to measurable quantities. For example, do I say, “Our new production manager will go further in the company than anyone who came before him” or “Our new production manager will go farther in the company than anyone who came before him”? Although the words once had the same meaning, their meanings have evolved. And it’s an important distinction to all your customers who have good ears for grammar and vocabulary. That means it should be important to you.
Further is the correct choice in the sentence above. By saying the new manager will go further than others, you’re illustrating a degree of upward mobility. You will be able to tell in the future that this manager actually moved up further, but you aren’t measuring a distance. If you say “he will go farther,” that might make sense if he moves to another city thousands of miles away. So, use farther for measurable distance and further for more figurative movement.
Often, very is unnecessary. Instead, choose words that describe just how “very” something is. For example, the use of huge suggests something is larger than large, or “very large.” So, choose huge. Other action words might include rapid (vs. very fast) or ecstatic (vs. very happy),
It is important to use words correctly – correct usage can avoid turning off those customers who know how the word should be used, and can prevent confusion for those who might not know the subtle difference, but get the clear meaning. We can help with our Take Your Writing to the Next Level online course or our Writing That Sells! Webinar. Sign up online or call us at 425-485-3221 for more on our business writing courses and coaching.