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Online Writing Lab

Improving Word Choice

There are many components crucial in the writing process. Part of becoming a more skilled writer is mastering not only the fundamentals of proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, but also the nuances of word choice. In the initial stages of the writing process, understanding how to create thoughtful and organized thesis statements and topic sentences are vital; however, once the basic structure of a paper has been solidified, it is important to explore the various ways words and sentences can be modified to better convey an argument. A simple yet powerful way to establish writing as important, skilled, and unique is through word choice. Writers who use specific, vibrant words in their writing achieve a number of goals, from engaging the reader to enlivening the content of their subject matter.

Tips for improving Word Choice:
Choose a variety of words- It is natural for most writers to habitually choose and rely upon certain words. We all have particular words we are comfortable with; thus, they appear regularly in emails, academic papers, and even conversation. To add variety, choose 3-5 words you often use and explore other options for words that have the same meaning. For example, if you often use the word “good,” make a diligent effort to replace it with one of the following words: splendid, excellent, wonderful or valuable. Referencing a thesaurus can be helpful in learning synonyms (different words with similar meanings).

Replace generic words with more specific ones – Writers have a tendency to use generic words instead of specific ones. Often, these are pronouns like they, them, she, he, it. Instead of relying on these pronouns, they can easily be replaced with specific names or people. Doing so creates a vivid, specific image for the audience as well a more interesting paper.

Choose strong, specific verbs- Verbs are words that show action and are a necessary component for a well-developed sentence. A simple way to enhance word choice in writing is by choosing specific and interesting verbs – words that show not only the action, but how the action occurs. For example, in the sentence “I ran to my car in the rain,” the reader knows only that the action I took was running. Instead, the writer could improve the word choice by revising to something like “I sprinted to my car in the rain.” It is common for writers to overuse verbs like “is,” “are” and “were.” Whenever possible, convert these linking verbs to action verbs.

Here are some specific verbs to use for enhancing word choice:
Align     analyze     amplify     assert     avoid
Begin     build     benefit     broaden      believe
Convince     connect     cause     control     create
Drive     discover    dismiss     dismantle     destroy
Edit     engage      evolve      express      explore        
Find     fabricate     finish     fit     fail
Gain     guide     grow     handle     hamper
Identify     ignore     input     implement     impress
Justify     judge     limit     lose      linger
Maintain     monitor    negate     operate     offer
Prepare     predict     prefer     provide     question
Reduce     reject     repair     research     review
Show     simplify     solve     suggest     submit
Transform     translate     update     validate     view

Adjectives and adverbs – Use of adjectives and adverbs adds detail to writing by modifying elements in the sentence, most commonly nouns and verbs. The more specific the adjective and adverbs, the more interesting and detailed the writing.

For example, evaluate this sentence: “The scary dog was big.”

Scary could be replaced with terrifying, horrifying, or unnerving.

Big could be replaced with huge, enormous, immense, spacious, or colossal.

Using any of these words to replace the original adjectives will enhance the word choice, thereby enhancing the quality of writing.

View the Parts of Speech Page for more information about adjectives and adverbs

Use language that is appropriate for the audience – When choosing specific words or phrases to include in an academic paper, it is crucial to be aware of the audience. The majority of academic papers are written with the instructor and peers as the audience, while other types of writing are written for a more casual audience. The key aspect is to choose words that not only convey your topic, but are easily understood and convincing for your audience. For example, when writing an academic research paper for a Psychology course, it is important and appropriate to use words related to Psychology, such as Sigmund Freud, Operant Conditioning and Self-Actualization. However, using those same terms in an English paper covering the thematic ideas of Shakespeare would not be appropriate given the audience. Similarly, when writing research papers, it is vital to choose words that pertain not only to the audience, but to also thoroughly explain those terms.

View the Determining Audience Page for more information on audience.