The Use and Importance of Action Words for Goal Setting

The Use and Importance of Action Words for Goal Setting
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Goal Setting

Goals are a state or outcome, usually superior to the existing condition, that an organization or a person intends to achieve. Goal setting is the systematic approach of defining tasks that direct efforts to such desired outcomes.

While there are no hard and fast rules on how to set goals, one effective approach to goal setting is:

  • identification of the need or problem
  • breaking down the problem or need to various components for better articulation and measurement
  • deciding on the changes required in each component to achieve the desired target
  • articulating the tasks that require doing in specific and time bound manner to effect the changes required

Success in goal setting depends on providing specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound values to the goals. Such values provide clear-cut direction and target that fulfill the very purpose of setting goals.

What is Action Words

Action words are “doing” words, or words that make a definite call to action. Examples of such words are:

  • knowledge words such as count, define, draw, read, list, quote
  • comprehension words such as compare, contrast, interpret, describe, estimate, classify, and differentiate
  • application words such as calculate, practice, use, solve, order, employ, utilize
  • analysis words such as group, summarize, analyze, separate, detect, and explain
  • synthesis words such as arrange, plan, produce, combine, create, organize, and prepare
  • evaluation words such as apprise, determine, judge, measure, specify, rank, and grade

The use of such words in the goal statement lend clarity, specificity, and decisiveness to the goal statement, and contributes to the effectiveness of the goal. The people reading such goal statements obtain clear cut instructions with little room for doubts, and require little clarification.


The very purpose of goals is to progress from an existing state to a desired state. This invariably requires some action, and goals that do not include any call for action do not address how to make the movement from existing state to desired state, and hence remain inadequate or imperfect goals.

For instance, a goal “considering various alternatives of online payment mechanisms” sounds better when rephrased as “Investigate options available for making online payments, and prioritize the options based on parameters of cost, reliability, and convenience.” The earlier phrase leaves the goal vague and the reader clueless on how exactly to go about the task, whereas the latter statement provides clear cut and definite instructions for the reader.

The use of action words lend clarity to goals by making explicit the requirements. The best goals are specific and straightforward, and action words, by stating what the goal would achieve, lend such specificity and straightforwardness.


Good goals are measurable, calling for a quantifiable improvement from one state to another. Writing goal statements in abstract terms however makes goals unobservable and not measurable. The use of action words allow breaking down of abstract components in the goal statement into specific and measurable components.

One example of using action phrases to set a measurable goal is “Combine trips to make different purchases to reduce transport costs and thereby save $25 a week.” The same goal, written in an abstract manner would read “cutting costs by eliminating duplication of efforts.” In the former statement, the goal provides a specific measure of what to achieve, whereas in the latter statement, the reader remains guessing on how much costs to cut to ensure fulfillment of the goal.


The use of words and phrases that make a definite call to action provides a plan of action geared towards accomplishment of the task, and thereby make the goal powerful and motivating. Some examples of such action phrases which, if included in a goal statement help render such statement powerful and motivating are:

  • “conduct need-analysis”
  • “write sales and marketing documents”
  • “facilitate problem-solving meeting”
  • “analyze evaluation data”
  • “coordinate strategic planning meeting”
  • “develop new product”

Using action words for goal setting contributes to the effectiveness of the goal in many ways, and provides many benefits to the organization such as better communications, a more responsive workforce, and more. All these contributes to an overall improved performance,


The author is a graduate in management science with 10+years of experience in business and Human Resource Management.

Image Credit: Kiel