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What Is Word Choice?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 23, 2024
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Word choice is an area of writing concerned with using clear, descriptive words that engage readers. Correct word choice creates an accurate picture of the writer's topic that is both unique and easy to understand. This use of language is considered an important component of good written communication. Common essay-writing mistakes related to word choice include the use of filler text, sentences with too many linked clauses, and incorrect pronoun references. Writing in the active, versus the passive, voice is also a common issue with constructing clear explanations or descriptions in writing.

The use of too many unnecessary words is a frequent word choice problem that makes a sentence difficult to understand. Literature with these wordy phrases normally distracts the reader from the main point because of the need to figure out exactly what the writer is trying to say. Concise phrases with only one or two words each can usually be substituted for longer phrases without changing the meaning. Another related problem with word choice is the frequent use of large and complex words in writing that would be more understandable with simpler words. The goal of most effective writing is not to display the writer's vocabulary but to communicate an idea or topic in a clear and concise manner.

Brief and simple sentences are an additional feature of good word choice. While many composition teachers advise varying sentence length to keep the readers' interest, some writers make their sentences too long and complex. Overuse of phrases linked with semicolons is a common sign of this issue, and many writing experts recommend using this type of sentence construction sparingly. Too-long sentences can be notoriously difficult to completely understand.

Correct pronoun references are requirements for effective writing as well. Syntax mistakes with pronouns usually involve placing a pronoun such as "he" or "she" in the wrong sentence spot so that it appears to refer to an inanimate object. While readers usually understand the implied meaning, this error can be jarring and somewhat confusing to read.

Many audiences prefer professional or academic writing that uses more of the active voice instead of the passive. This type of word choice is the most effective for informational written material because it addresses each point directly without any unnecessary filler words. The passive voice can sometimes be an effective device when used sparingly in some forms of literature, although it often sacrifices overall clarity.

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Discussion Comments

By anon329160 — On Apr 08, 2013

If I were a teacher, I would look into getting newspapers or magazines that are relevant to what is going on.

The textbooks really don't do it for them, but there are magazines that do print for young students and they are worth looking into. So what if it takes money out of the pockets? Some school systems do reimburse teachers for just that!

By ZsaZsa56 — On Dec 29, 2012

So there are dictionaries and thesauruses, but is there any book that will help me get better at word choice?

By whiteplane — On Dec 29, 2012

@Ivan83 - I agree. I work as a middle school teacher and one of the greatest challenges that I have is selecting reading material that is appropriate for the age of my students. If it is too simple it does not challenge them. But if it is too complex, and has very elevated language and structure, it goes over their heads and makes them frustrated about reading. The choice of words has to be appropriate for the intelligence level of the audience.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 28, 2012

Word choice is something that even experienced writes struggle with. Picking the right word out of the sea of words that is our language is no small feat.

I think the best way to do it is to keep the reader in mind. Ultimately, any act of writing is an act of communication. You want your message to be comprehended by the reader so you have to select words that are appropriate to your audience.

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