Search and destroy: Facility

Here’s a simple illustration showing how concrete nouns can improve your writing. It’s a list of six words. Look at the first one, then close you eyes for a couple of seconds and think about the mental picture it creates. Do the same with the remaining five words.

  1. Garage
  2. Hospital
  3. Ballroom
  4. School
  5. Supermarket
  6. Facility

If you drew a blank on No. 6, don’t feel bad. A “facility” could be almost any kind of room, structure or group of structures. It’s a foggy, unfocused word. Hunt for it in your writing and delete it whenever possible.

I won’t deny that it’s a legitimate word. When something is facile, it’s easy to do. A facility is a place that makes a particular task easy to perform. So if you outfit a room with sinks and refrigerators and ovens for preparing food, you have created a food preparation facility. But call it a kitchen. You don’t need three words to do the work of one.

Likewise, a manufacturing facility is just a factory in fancy dress. A correctional facility is a jail or a prison, no matter what the bureaucrats want to tell you. An exercise facility is a gym. Other facilities might be offices, plants, studios, bases or some other specific word.

Many writers also have a habit of tacking “facility” onto descriptions that could stand on their own. I once asked a healthcare reporter to stop using the term “nursing home facility” in her stories. Visibly annoyed with me, she said, “What am I supposed to call it, a nursing home shack?” No, just call it a nursing home. Do the same kind of trimming on “hospital facility,” “school facility,” “laboratory facility” and the like.

Sometimes there’s no way to avoid the word, such as when you are writing about facilities management software. Or you might need to refer to a cluster of interconnected buildings that serve as a garage, hospital, ballroom, school and supermarket. That’s a facility if there ever was one.

Most of the time, though, it’s worth the effort to use the specific, concrete word in your writing. Readers will see it in their heads instead of drawing a blank.


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