Quality, Service, Value, Needs:
Top Dogs on Our Writing Most-Wanted List

Posted on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, at 11:00 pm

We began our campaign against worn-out words and phrases in 2017 with three posts on what to weed from our writing (June, July, December). We hope in 2018 you’ve been on guard against those verbal saboteurs that would sneak in to weaken your prose.

This year we will also start to call out offenders that belong on our Writing Most-Wanted List. These words and phrases are more than worn out: They are grizzled veterans of survival despite being verbal vagrants for decades. They continue reappearing with the same vague and tired meanings, and the older they get, the more invincible they feel.

Our first four outlaws are quality, service, value, and needs, particularly as they apply to communication by just about any organization ranging from auto shops to finance firms to schools to healthcare centers.

Let’s look at why the words belong behind bars, at least until they’re able to offer our writing distinction and substance again.

Everyone promises it. No one retains it after reading it, because it is now to us only a word. Think of how often you’ve been promised a quality product or been told we offer you the highest quality. What exactly is it? When someone expresses to you that their quality separates them from (insert competitor here), are you convinced? Neither are we.

Ours is the best. Nobody tries or works harder than we do to get the job done and ensure your satisfaction. The total, absolute, unmistakable difference between us and them is our service. Or, worse yet, we double up with quality service. Again, everyone’s heard it before, and it’s nearly impossible to prove in a message by reference alone.

Many of us have said or written it: Get more value from your (or our) [insert what you offer]. It’s value-added. We move you up the value chain. In content, the word is like an egg without the yolk and white inside: It’s boring to look at, and we don’t even get its basic benefits upon cracking it open.

Although it may appear the least harmful of the bunch, it is possibly the most frequent invader, perhaps because we feel it lends a human touch. We respond to your needs. We have the resources to satisfy all of your needs. We focus on the needs of the (customer, patient, student, etc.). It can still hold a job in personal communication, but beyond being overused, it sounds mushy and meek in formal and professional writing.

Once we’ve seized these miscreants and put them where they can no longer sap strength from our writing, we might wonder what to do next. After all, they’ve been reliable go-to’s for a long time.

The solution is simple. Instead of depending on vacant, general labels, we provide our readers specifics that let them form their own ideas of quality, service, value, and needs.

Dur-a-Stop brakes are scientifically proven by three separate labs to last three times longer than the next leading competitor’s. (quality)

Our hospital provides free local transport and personal waiting rooms for all immediate family members during inpatient stays. (service)

Smart University’s teacher-to-student ratio ensures that on average each student receives 1.5 times more individual attention than at other regional schools with the same tuition. (value)

The staff at Eddie Van Hendrix’s Musical Mecca features twelve different genre experts to assist with even obscure and highly specialized requirements. (needs within the context of service)

Late-breaking news: Our international network of grammar police has spotted all four of these runaways. They are closing in on them right at this moment, and apprehension is imminent. Once we have them in custody, you can help us keep them safely away from good writing by focusing on the details that show your excellence in meeting your audience’s desire for quality, service, value, and fulfillment of needs.

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A _____ Walks Into a Bar

Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, at 11:00 pm

The phrase A ______ walks into a bar has provided the take-off point for an uncountable number of jokes over the years. No matter what one’s opinion is of bars, we hope that everyone can appreciate the lessons in English grammar contained in the clever sentences that follow: A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying …

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Are We Hyphenating Well?

Posted on Tuesday, April 3, 2018, at 11:00 pm

The proper use of good and well in writing is a common grammatical topic; we last addressed it in September 2017. For many, the distinction can be uncertain. An equally slippery subject is whether to hyphenate well when it helps describe a noun. For example, do we write a well-dressed man or a well dressed …

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The Language of Sports

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at 11:00 pm

“I truly don’t know the language,” said the late Sparky Anderson, a Hall of Fame baseball manager, in 1993. At least he had the gumption to admit it. It’s not that they’re lazy—athletes work their tails off. And it’s not that they’re stupid—you try memorizing a football playbook. It’s just that their brand of eloquence is …

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Tackling More Tricky Word Choices: Issue vs. Problem

Posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at 11:30 pm

Several of our articles to start the year have focused on tricky word choices, ones that may throw us off simply because we might not be aware of or pay attention to their subtleties and differences. Another pair of tricky, freely swapped words is issue and problem. Most often, we’ll use issue to mean problem, …

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