Read most business content, and you’re almost certain to come across some impacting and trending. You might see leveraging, trialing and even dog-fooding if the content creator’s really fond of the corporate habit of verbing nouns. The problem with turning nouns into verbs isn’t that it goes against dictionary definitions; it’s that it weakens strong writing and obscures meaning. Here’s why your content should skip the corporate conventions and use straightforward language.
What’s a Verbed Noun, Anyway?
Essentially, nouns are names, and verbs are actions. When verbs describe a particular activity, they sometimes expand into noun territory, becoming the name for that activity. It happens especially often with new activities because these actions don’t yet have names of their own. That’s how sending email or text messages have become emailing and texting. You’ll also see it often in sports where the name of the equipment becomes the verb, as in snowboarding or rollerblading. These verbs’ evolution into nouns expands the language and makes it easier to communicate. It’s shorter to say ″I’ll email you″ than ″I’ll send you an email,″ and everyone knows what it means.
Some verbs are the wallpaper paste of language, holding sentences together but without adding much interest of their own. Forms of ″to be″ verbs such as ″is″ and ″are″ have become practically invisible because we see them all the time. ″To be″ verbs also find their way into passive-voice constructions that sap the life out of any content if writers overuse them. To spice things up, business content writers reach for more interesting verbs – but sometimes they reach too far. Instead of letting verbs naturally shift into nouns, they force them into that mold, which is how dog-fooding and donutting happen.
Solving the Wrong Problem
Business writing isn’t always filled with page-turning excitement. PowerPoint presentations of budget forecasts and analytics of SEO content need something to keep corporate audiences engaged, and one way business writers do that is with exciting language. In a boardroom presentation, that’s fine; anyone who’s sat through a dry, passive presentation would welcome a few newly minted verbs. For digital content you serve your audience, including SEO, blog posts, white papers and other branded copy, these new verbs don’t add to the conversation. In fact, they take away from meaningful content by making the conversation about themselves.
We’ve used it as an example already, so let’s take a closer look at dog-fooding. It’s certainly memorable, but what does it mean? Dog-fooding just means using your own company’s products and services. You see it in action on this website and blog because the same writers who work for you create the content you see on the page. Unless you knew that, though, this verbed noun doesn’t make much sense. How about donutting? That’s just forming up in a circle and discussing a project.
These don’t work well in digital content your audience reads in SEO articles, email and blog posts because they divert your readers’ attention from your subject to the obscure verb they’re now trying to process. In worst-case scenarios, they may even go to another site to look up definitions – and you never want your audience clicking away from your page unless it’s to more of your content.
Your readers don’t need you to do verbal gymnastics to keep them alert during a meeting or condense concepts to fit a large amount of information into a brief PowerPoint presentation. They need your content creation team to speak clearly to them about what they need to know.
Start Making Sense
For some corporate content writers, verbing nouns has become so common that it’s now a textual habit they can’t break. When nouns that already have a perfectly good verb form transform into verbs again, they hide meaning instead of clarifying it. An executive signaturing a document instead of signing it, a group conferencing instead of conferring, a test audience trialing products instead of trying them – these uses are awkward and make readers wonder why the content creator didn’t just use the existing verbs.
A little verbing goes a long way in business content, especially if you’re reaching a diverse audience with your SEO articles and blog posts. The occasional leveraging is fine, but leave the dog-fooding and donutting out of your digital content.