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Find 'Meaning-Laden' Words
That Reveal Gist Of The Story
December 11, 2013

By Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D.
Voice Specialist
Author, Broadcaster's Survival Guide

I heard a story on the radio recently that made me think about the concept of "meaning-laden words.” 

The story was about a group of protestors here in D.C.  The anchor read this sentence, stressing the word "people”: 
”Five hundred people were protesting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial today.”
Now it’s important that they were people, but what’s really important is that there were 500 of them. This anchor missed the main point of the story by selecting the wrong meaning-laden word.


I define meaning-laden words as the words that you must hear to get the gist of the story. One way to think of it is that if you pick up the script and only the meaning-laden words stick to the paper, would they tell the story?

Why is this important? 
  • If you’re a voice over artist reading ad copy, the product name better be one of your meaning-laden words or you’ll have a very unhappy employer. 
  • If you’re a broadcaster, you need to verbally underline words for the listener so they can understand the story amidst all the distractions going on as they listen or watch.

Let’s look at another sentence: 
"The quick, brown fox jumped over the fence.” 
What’s important to get the meaning? I’d say, "fox,” "jumped,” "fence.” 

It’s nice that the fox is quick and brown, but it’s not necessary to get the meaning of the sentence.


Want to get better in the search for meaning-laden words? Try taking a script or a newspaper article and underlining the words in a story that carry meaning. 

Once you’ve marked them go back and read just those words. Do they tell the story?  If they do you made the right choices! 

Keep this exercise up because it’s a good to develop the ability to find the meaning-laden words quickly.
Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D., is a voice specialist with more than 40 years experience and has helped hundreds of people make the most of their voices, working with broadcasters, voice over artists and podcasters around the world. An author of eight books and over 50 articles on voice, her Broadcaster's Survival Guide e-book offers more tips on dealing with holiday stress, plus advice on how to improve your voice over performance by making simple lifestyle changes.

Click for: Broadcaster's Survival Guide

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