Either do or do not, there is no ensure!

I was working through some text with a client this week and she told me that she was going to replace one of my words with “ensure”. Well, you know how they say the client is always right, well mostly, I am afraid I couldn’t allow it. I launched into one of my professional rants. It goes something like this …

Ensure is a business cliche

The word “ensure” has become an increasingly overused term in business writing. While the intention perhaps is to convey a sense of oversight and confidence, its overuse has the opposite effect. It has become bad writing.

To ensure something is to make certain that it will happen. This indicates that the person doing the ensuring has taken active steps to make sure the outcome is achieved. However, when writers use it repeatedly, it creates a sense of pomposity, that is, they are just trying to make themselves sound more important. Rather than doing it they are ensuring that someone else is doing it. This creates problems of credibility in business writing.

Implications of ensure

Using “ensure” excessively creates the impression that the actioner is detached from the process and is not directly involved in the process. It implies that they are delegating the responsibility. This diminishes the actioner’s role in achieving the outcome.

Creates concatenations

When writers use “ensure” repeatedly in their writing, it can create what is known as a “concatenation of verbs”. This refers to a series of verbs or verb phrases that are strung together in a sentence, creating a lengthy and complex structure that is difficult to follow.

When a sentence contains long concatenations of verbs it makes parsing it more difficult (parsing is how the reader breaks a sentence down into its components to understand it). When there are a string of multiple verbs it makes the sentence more challenging to understand.

Creates disconnect

Like all overused business writing terms using “ensure” too much makes the text less engaging for readers and reduce its impact. It can create a sense of distance and disconnection from the message being conveyed. Just like Yoda says to Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back (1980) “Do or do not, there is no try”; it is the same with ensure, either to it or don’t do it, but don’t step aside to ensure that it is done. As the Nike slogan, also, Just do it!

How to avoid “ensure”

So, what can writers do to avoid overusing “ensure”?

  1. use alternative words e.g. “guarantee”, “assure”, “confirm”, or “verify”
  2. instead of using multiple verbs to describe an action, use a single, strong verb that conveys the same meaning, e.g. instead of saying “ensure that all team members are informed of their responsibilities”, say “inform all team members of their responsibilities”
  3. impose discipline on yourself and do not use ensure at all (my strategy)

By using more concise language and structuring sentences effectively, writers can create more engaging and effective content that is easier for readers to understand.

Also avoid grumpy old writers

In conclusion, if you don’t want to get a rant from a grumpy old writer don’t try to edit ensure into his writing.