Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Writing Tips: Clarity in Word Choice (Say What You Mean)

Never underestimate the power of one little word. A few letters here; a syllable there; but the difference between "Do feed the lion" and "Do not feed the lion" can't be measured. It might, in fact, be the difference between life and death.

Good communication is important. Writers have a high place in the cast of history because they possess the power to communicate: their instructions, ideals, visions, and protests have changed the world more than once. The writing project you're working on may not have the significance of The Declaration of Independence or The Gospel According to John, but if you're going to write it's important that you master the art of saying what you mean.

Two important tools can help you with this:

1. The Dictionary. If you're not sure what a word means, look it up! Did you know that a casualty is a "person or thing injured, lost, or destroyed," or that "taciturn" means "temperamentally disinclined to talk"? I'm fond of "lowering" skies, which are "dark, gloomy, and threatening." Many of us pick up words through conversation or reading that we're comfortable using, but can't actually define. In writing, it's often best to look these up. You may get the joy of discovering just how bang-on the word you want to use is!

2. The Thesaurus. These are even more fun than dictionaries. Maybe you're describing a man who is "sulky," but that isn't quite the word you want. Look it up in the thesaurus and discover a new world of possibilities: perhaps he is glum, sullen, surly, morose; choleric, crabby, cranky, or cross; irascible, irritable, or just plain petulant.

Every word has its own shades of meaning. Choosing the right one will not only give your writing clarity, it will give it power.

Check back next Wednesday for "Say What You Mean: Part 2," in which we discuss the insidious insipidity of "seems" and "like" and other words to be avoided.

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Anonymous Rachel R said...

Beautifully put as usual. :)

9:26 a.m.  
Blogger Claire said...

Good stuff! I really enjoyed this. :)

In Christ,

12:23 a.m.  
Blogger Rachel B said...

My best friend is the "synonym" option that pops up when you right-click on a word (Microsoft Word.

8:41 p.m.  

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