for a strong, fast pick-me-up
This corny joke illustrates how we usually tell stories and communicate in a more engaging style in the present tense – it’s not that they walk-ED (Past tense) into a bar. It’s told in the Present tense – they WALK into a bar.
Then – after the more engaging opening – the joke moves into PAST tense.
In a related post, we looked at how you can improve your business writing by asking yourself two important questions:
So What? and Now What?
Now we’ll look at how can make your business writing sound more engaging and fresher – and not “old news” – by learning to get smart about tweaking your tense.
Journalists tweak tense to make stories sound more urgent and compelling. You don’t want your stories to sound like “old news:.
Here’s how YOU can tweak the tense
1. Find the current angle – the present tense not what happened but what’s happening NOW
2. Or even better the future angle – what will happen
Those words are a good guide to keeping your writing lively.
Not what happen-ED – what’s happen-ING.
Write in -ING words – not –ED words.
A fire damagED a building
Experts are investigatING the cause of a fire…
A surfer was killED by a shark.
Police are urgING surfers to not swim…
Thieves bashED a 90-year old pensioner.
A 90-year-old pensioner is recovering in hospital after being bashed…
Technically it’s called the Present Progressive tense – the action is in PROGRESS – now.
Here’s a more business-related example I saw on a US legal website that sounded like “old news”.
N.B. The name and example Bill Smith is fictitious
Bill Smith has been elect-ED as the new chairman of…
Instead use the –ING or the -S tense
Bill Smith is join-ING or
Bill Smith is tak-ING his role as chairman or
Bill Smith joinS… or
Bill Smith takeS on…
Often headlines or headings are written with the -s (Present Tense)
You can also write in the FUTURE TENSE.
Bill Smith WILL JOIN or WILL TAKE…
Bill Smith TO JOIN or Bill Smith TO TAKE
Countless copywriting and business writing posts are written about the importance of headline-style headings.
These above tips on tweaking tense will help YOU write more engaging headlines and headings!
Why does tense matter? Next in Part 2/4
For you – NOW WHAT?
If YOU can relate to the “challenge” of dull, lifeless business writing and if you’d like some help to make your organisation’s writing stand out from competitors – I’d love to run some memorable and effective writing workshops for your people.
As well as helping financial clients, I also help lawyers improve their writing.
Some Legal writing is notoriously “passive” and detached. It’s often complex and designed to sound educated – to impress rather than to express! That’s the way I used to write – until my crusty media bosses taught me the newsy style!
If you enjoyed this post – you’ll probably also enjoy another post about how newsy-ness can help improve your business writing and win you more profile and attention and business.
More tense examples in this background information about:
So who is writing this? (I’ve already written it – but I write in a present tense. Old reporter habit!)
Hi, I’m Tony Biancotti and I’m a lawyer turned journalist and business communication consultant. (You’ll note that I don’t say I WAS a lawyer or used to be a lawyer – I AM a lawyer turned journalist…)
Sure, I’m a bit of a “nerd” when it comes to business communication – but I get (present tense ) lots of feedback that people like my enthusiastic knowledge of and passion for the power of words and images and techniques of engaging people.
I will share with you (Future tense) practical and easy-to-apply tips I’ve gathered (sure it’s past tense here – but it’s appropriate and AFTER the more current tenses) over many years working as a:
I’m also a very busy dad and husband juggling my work and travel with family life and our two wonderful kids – Orlando and Cleo.
I’m based in Brisbane, Australia – and regularly travel for work throughout Australia and Asia-Pacific.