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What Are the Best Tips for Good Word Choice in Writing?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2017
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Good word choice in writing is important for clarity and to make sure each of the ideas presented in the piece are understood by the reader. The words chosen in different kinds of writing can vary depending on the tone and voice of the article, the audience for whom it is intended, and the emotional response the author is trying to elicit from the reader. Word choice in writing can help to give the reader a complete sensory experience, and can make the piece itself feel more lyrical and enjoyable to read.

One of the best tips for word choice in writing is to always keep balance in mind. This generally means a balance between specific, concrete descriptions versus more general ideas. For instance, some writers like to provide extensive detail and descriptive, flowery language for every single thing in a story, from the sound of the rain outside all the way down to the doorknob of the house. Rather than really putting the reader in the story, this often gets tedious. The best writers, rather than describing everything in minute detail, choose words that offer a more broad, abstract picture for certain things, and allow the reader to fill in unnecessary blanks.

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Some inexperienced writers like to write with a thesaurus nearby so they can replace simple words with larger, more complex words to make their writing more "impressive." Though in some instances a thesaurus can be a helpful tool for finding more appropriate synonyms, it is important to only do this in moderation, and to refrain from using words that are unfamiliar. It is not necessary to use a lengthy, pretentious word when a simple one will do. Often, the best writers are able to use simple, concrete words to get their message across. Also, this is a good time to consider the audience; don't use technical jargon, for example, if the piece of writing is intended for a more general audience; by the same token, do not use slang or colloquialisms in a college research paper.

Another thing to keep in mind when considering word choice in writing is the connotation inherent in certain words. Though "slender" and "skinny" may technically mean the same thing, for example, the first has a positive connotation while the second has a more negative connotation. This is also true when using figurative language to describe something in a sensory way, or to evoke a certain emotion. Word choice in writing goes far beyond the simple dictionary definition and into the hidden meanings that every word has.

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irontoenail
Post 3

@croydon - Unfortunately, we can't all afford to have editors and often people aren't assigned an editor until after they've sold a piece. Of course, if you're writing something for work, you're never going to have an editor, so you have to rely on your own work.

Practice is the absolute best thing you can do to improve your word choice in my opinion. Everything in the world takes practice and people seem to think writing is an exception to that for some reason. Probably because they've been writing all their lives. But you've been walking all your life, that doesn't mean that you can run a marathon right now.

croydon
Post 2

@umbra21 - I always liked the saying "the more a reader thinks about the author while reading their work, the less they'll think about them afterwards." That said, I don't think you need to cut out every single bit that you're proud of writing.

I think it's always a good idea to read something aloud, so that you can see where you stumble. Even better, get someone else to read it aloud so that you can see where they stumble or where it doesn't sound right. Better yet, ask them what they think as well.

Even the best writers in the world can't see their own writing very well. They need an editor to go through and make sure they have done it all the best way possible.

umbra21
Post 1

The best writing advice I've ever heard when it comes to word choice is "kill your darlings." Some people say it was Hemmingway who said it, some people say it was Chandler, but whoever it was knew what they were talking about. People tend to get very impressed with their own florid writing, and put all kinds of inner jokes and metaphors and huge words into the prose when it doesn't need it. Clear and simple is much much better.

So, when they say "kill your darlings" they mean go through and look at all the bits in your writing that you are particularly proud of or attached to. Do they really need to be in there, or are you showing off? Don't show off. The writer is not supposed to be in the forefront of the reader's mind. The reader is supposed to be thinking about whatever it is that you're telling them about, not thinking about you.

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