Word Choice

Everyone has experienced that moment where we are staring at a word document, digging deep in their minds searching for the RIGHT word. We have all been there! Word choice is present in every facet of our lives, whether it’s texting with friends or sending an email to your professor. Word choice always matters!

What is word choice? “Word choice refers to a writer’s selection of words as determined by a number of factors, including meaning (both denotative and connotative), specificity, level of diction, tone, and audience. Another term for word choice is diction. Word choice is an essential ingredient of style.” (writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/word-choice/)


Key Elements:

  • Connotation and Denotation:
    • Connotation: The associated or secondary meaning of a word; the emotions a word evokes.
    • Example: A connotation of the word “home” may be “place of warmth and comfort.”
    • There can be negative connotation and positive connotation.
      • Illegal Alien: This has a very negative connotation, primarily because the words illegal and alien evoke negative feelings.
      • Undocumented Worker: This has a positive connotation because the term does not evoke any negative feelings.
    • The two terms above have the same meaning, yet evoke very different emotions.
    • Denotation : The literal or primary meaning of a word.
    • Example: The denotation of the word “home” is “the place where one lives permanently.”
      • Illegal Alien: Someone who is in the country illegally.
      • Undocumented Worker: Someone who is in the country illegally.

An interesting way to think about connotation and denotation is as a politician’s tool. Like a politician, you want to evoke certain emotions in your writing. A simple variation in word choice can have a vast impact on the emotions that the reader is feeling.


  • Formality:
    • Formal vs. Informal: The formality of anything you say or write depends entirely upon your audience. If you are sending two emails of the same subject matter, one to your friend and one to your professor, these emails will look very different,
      • Formal: Formal english is commonly used in “serious” texts such as academic papers, official documents, etc.
      • Informal: Informal english is commonly used in conversation and other improvised means of communication.formal.png
  • Transition Words
    • Transition words are words that help you transition from one idea to another. They are easily the most under-appreciated element of word choice. The use of correct transition words can make the difference between an essay that flows very well, and an essay that is completely choppy and incoherent:
      • Examples: for example, for instance
      • Sequence: first, second, third, etc., next, then, following this, finally, consequently, subsequently, thus, therefore, hence
      • Addition: and, again, and then, besides, equally important, finally, further, furthermore, nor, too, next, lastly, what’s more, moreover, in addition, first (second, etc.)
      • Comparison: but, yet, on the other hand, however, nevertheless, on the contrary, by comparison, where, compared to, although, in contrast, although this may be true
      • Summary or conclusion: in brief, summing up, to conclude, in conclusion, as I have shown, as I have said, hence, therefore, thus, consequently
      • Emphasis: definitely, extremely, obviously, in fact, indeed, absolutely, positively, naturally, surprisingly, always, forever, never, emphatically, unquestionably, without a doubt, certainly, undeniably
      • Time: immediately, thereafter, soon, finally, then, later, previously, formerly, first (second, etc.), next.
  • Repetition vs. Redundancy
    • Repetition is a very necessary element of word choice. It is unavoidable that in an essay you will find yourself needing to use key terms several times throughout the essay, and sometimes replacing these key terms with a synonym will weaken the argument. When used correctly, repetition will emphasize the point you are trying to make and remind the reader that you are still making your argument. When repetition is used correctly, it leads to a cohesive, fresh essay.
    • Redundancy is the result of repetition used incorrectly. When used incorrectly it leads to redundancy. If you find yourself repeating nouns or adjectives, it sends the message that you are trying to make a point over and over again which highly weakens your argument. The reader may see this as not cohesive.


ALWAYS be cognizant of word choice! It will either make or break an essay. Use connotations of a word to your advantage because they are useful strategy to evoke emotions in your reader (especially without them knowing.) Make sure you use appropriate formality. Be aware of your transition words, they add to the flow of an essay and make it incredibly cohesive when used correctly. Repetition is okay, as long as you are not being redundant.








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