The term word choice refers to the decision of a writer to use a certain word to get the point across to a specific audience, specificity, tone, and diction.
As seen is this picture, these two examples describe totally different things even if in one’s mind they may mean the same thing. Word choice is something that may not be noticed while writing and often times takes reading over your writing multiple times.
Selecting a word in your writing should start by finding a word and making absolutely sure that is an accurate choice to get your exact meaning across. The next step is to make sure that this word will mean what you want it to in the minds of your intended audience.
Word choice is such an important aspect of writing that you can completely lose your reader if you do not select the appropriate word. The whole effort you put into writing and revising could be lost with a simple choice of words.
Six Principles of Word Choice
- Choose understandable words.
- Use specific, precise words.
- Choose strong words.
- Emphasize positive words.
- Avoid overused words.
- Avoid obsolete words.
(Adapted from Business Communication, 8th ed., by A.C. Krizan, Patricia Merrier, Joyce P. Logan, and Karen Williams. South-Western Cengage, 2011)
If words are too difficult for your reader, you may be unable to express your argument effectively. However, if words are too simple for your intended audience, the reader may become insulted or bored of your writing.
Michael Scott: [reading from the suggestion box] “You need to do something about your B.O.”
Dwight Schrute: [repeating to staff] “You need to do something about your B.O.”
Michael Scott: Okay. Now, I don’t know who this suggestion is meant for, but it’s more of a personal suggestion. And not an office suggestion. Far be it from me to use this as a platform to embarrass anybody.
Toby: Aren’t the suggestions meant for you?
Michael Scott: Well, Toby, if by me, you are inferring that I have B.O., then I would say that that is a very poor choice of words.
Creed: Michael, he wasn’t inferring, he was implying. You were inferring.
(Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, Paul Lieberstein, and Creed Bratton in “Performance Review.” The Office, 2005)
Often times, the second time going through your writing you will find awkward and generic words that you may be able to simply replace, enhancing the power of your writing. The key to perfecting word choice is being patient, respecting the power of words, and knowing the audience’s intellectual level.
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’”
-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“He said it twice because he had never said it before, and it sounded funny.”
-Winnie The Pooh