The Streamlined Business Blog

Tip: In Steps Use Powerful Verbs that Show Action

Nothing happens on a Hollywood movie set until the Director hollers Action! The same is true when it comes to procedures. Have you ever tried to follow a written procedure and work instruction and not been able to figure out what you are supposed to DO? It’s the actions that you want people to perform that make everything happen.

Burying the action is a classic mistake that many people make when writing policies and procedures. If you want to write procedures that get read and used, focus on specific actions and use powerful verbs that show action, not wimpy verbs.

Here are 3 tips you can apply to strengthen the actions in step descriptions:

1. Verbs are stronger than nouns.

Use verbs whenever possible and don’t turn verbs into nouns. Nominalized verbs frequently have the suffixes -tion, -ment, and –ance.  For example: Consider (verb) vs. Consideration (noun) should be given to

Poor: Make sure that the installation of the software is performed properly.

Better: Make sure you install the software properly.

Best: Install the software properly.

2. Don’t just say that someone “is responsible” for doing something, tell them exactly what to do.

Instead of: The switchboard operator is responsible for completing customer calls.

Write: Switchboard operators always connect customers to the appropriate staff member before leaving the line.

3. Don’t bury the real subject within a prepositional phrase that follows a weak or useless subject. ex. “The use of …”

Poor: The use of these steps will simplify your writing.
Better: These steps will simplify your writing.

Watch our upcoming posts for more tips and techniques that you can use for writing policies and procedures that deliver more value.

You might also want to check out our webinar series, particularly our How to Create User-friendly Procedures webinar.

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