CompFAQ/Word Choice

From Gerald R. Lucas
📝 English Composition Writing FAQ 11011102📖

Choose Your Words Carefully and Deliberately

Word choice, also known as diction, refers to the specific words or language used in writing. It involves selecting words that accurately and precisely convey the intended meaning, tone, and style of the writing. Effective word choice can enhance the clarity, coherence, and persuasiveness of the writing, while poor word choice can result in confusion, ambiguity, or unintended meanings. Word choice can also include considerations such as formality or informality, technicality, and appropriateness for the intended audience.

Follow these guidelines for correct word choice in your writing:

  • Consider your audience: Think about the intended audience and choose words that will be appropriate and understandable for them.
  • Use specific words: Avoid using general or vague words and choose more specific ones that accurately convey your meaning. For example, in a essay on a literary text, “protagonist” would be more accurate than “main character.”
  • Avoid repetition: Don’t repeat the same words or phrases throughout your essay. Use synonyms or different words to express the same idea.
  • Use strong verbs: Strong verbs help to create vivid and engaging writing. Instead of using weak verbs like “is” or “has,” choose more descriptive and active verbs.
  • Be concise: Choose words that are concise and avoid using unnecessary words or phrases.
  • Avoid jargon: Unless you are writing for a specialized audience, avoid using technical jargon or unfamiliar words.
  • Use the dictionary and thesaurus: If you are unsure about a word, look it up in the dictionary or thesaurus to ensure that it is the correct choice.

A word choice error occurs when a chosen word is incorrect or inappropriate. For example:

Behind a wall of animosity, we can often speak with impunity.

While “animosity” is spelled correctly, it does not work in the sentence. The correct word is “anonymity.” Word choice relies on your knowledge of vocabulary and often on the subtle differences in word meanings. Because synonyms often mean the same generally, you should never randomly pick a synonym without knowing how it differs in meaning from the word you would like to replace. Often a stronger, more accurate word should be chosen:

The Clinton administration formed a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

“To form” means “to shape or give structure to” and does not accurately convey the proper meaning in the context of the sentence. Try:

The Clinton administration adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

“To adopt” means “to select and take or approve.” Here, “adopted” suggests a willing initiation of a policy, rather than a structure that “formed” implied.

Word choice errors will often occur with homonyms, or words that sound the same, but have different meanings and often different spellings:

They did not notice there errors.

Be careful with these errors: spell checkers are not smart enough (yet!) to catch them. “There” should be “their”:

They did not notice their errors.

More Examples

Incorrect word choice:

The media often personifies teenagers as irresponsible, violent, and carefree.

“Personify” means “to give or take on the characteristics of a person” and therefore is and inappropriate word choice. An accurate word would be “portray” (among others):

The media often portrays teenagers as irresponsible, violent, and carefree.
Written: 2002, 2022; Revised: 05-1-2023; Version: Beta 0.7 💬