A not-so-iron will

Were you ever given a piece of writing advice that stuck in your head? And I don’t mean just went into your brain and settled amongst all the other pieces but actually stuck in your head, front of mind, and won’t go away.

I was.

For me, it was eradicating the word ‘will’ wherever possible.

Of course, ‘will’ has its place. It’s used for the future simple tense and, as its name suggests, is used mostly for things that happen (or might happen) in the future. But have a look at any piece of writing that includes ‘will’ and quite often you can get rid of it altogether. And with great benefit too.

When it has to be used, of course, it must be used. For example, I will eat cake after I’ve finished reading this book (because reading should be rewarded). Take out ‘will’ and the sentence sounds like something a drunk person (or caveman) might say.

Same goes for these examples:

He will fall over if he doesn’t look where he’s going.

She will get hurt if he falls over her.

Proper, sensible uses of ‘will’ in the future simple tense.

So what about where it can be removed altogether, without losing mean and adding strength?

First a bit of context. I’ve written a lot of natural science documents over the years and a good portion of them included ecological information about animals. Things like, an elephant can hold 11 litres of water in its trunks, or cockatoos are left-handed (it’s true!).

And I was in the habit of adding ‘will’ into sentences such as:

Male bowerbirds will collect brightly coloured objects and place them in front of their bowers to attract females.

Otters will learn to swim from about two months of age, under their parents’ watchful eyes.

It might seem obvious, it might not, but removing ‘will’ causes no problems for the sentences or their meanings and goes some way to strengthening them. If something is going to happen, then say it happens, not it will happen.

In a corporate sense, you might have a document that says:

Company A will commit to growing your business by 30% over three years.

First, it sound a little…non-committal. It sounds like we will do that but only if X happens and even then we’re not really sure we want to. Remove will, add an s…

Company A commits to growing your business by 30% over three years.

Much stronger, don’t you think? That’s a commitment you can believe in.

Another example:

If you invest in Company A, we will ensure you will receive an extra 15% per annum. Add our Super Saver program and that number will increase.

Cut, cut, cut…

If you invest in Company A, we ensure you receive an extra 15% per annum. Add a Super Saver program and that number increases.

Bye, bye, will. Hello, strength and assurance.

Sometimes you might want the ambiguity, the uncertainty that will provides in contexts where it’s not strictly necessary. Of course, it all depends on context. However, I urge you to be strong, have an iron will and remove it from your writing wherever possible.

And remember, confidence is sexy.

Rule of Thumb
Go through your writing and remove ‘will’ wherever you can.

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