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Language and Choice: How the words you use affects the meaning

Tutorials » Language and Choice: How the words you use affects the meaning

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it.” While inflection certainly plays a significant part in conveying meaning, the specific words we choose (even if they mean the same thing) also play an equally important role.

When setting the tone of your writing, we only have so many devices to use in order to give three dimensional depth to a two dimensional construct such as writing. Word choice is the most effective way to do this, which is why you must choose your words carefully, as each one creates the tone you are trying to set.

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That being the case, sometimes it’s hard to decide which words to use. So here are a few tips to help you come to an appropriate decision:

  1. Choose words that convey your meaning, not words that obscure it.

The most important thing in writing is the clear presentation of ideas. It is better to err on the side of clear simplicity than to try to impress your reader with complexity but fail to communicate. Also, construct your paper for your particular audience, keeping in mind what your audience does and does not know

  1. Write as naturally as possible.

In other words: be yourself. It’s nearly impossible to emulate someone else’s style and communicate as effectively as you would in your own. If you try to do both, you will end up diminishing one or the other, or even both.

  1. Have a reason for your choices.

Any time you hit a rough spot, stop and think about your goals and your audience. How can your word choice help achieve your ends? Make your choices consciously and strategically. Write down your goals on a separate piece of paper. It may help you come to a conclusion easier when if you see it in front of you.

  1. Be consistent.

Sudden changes in tone and complexity are distracting (see number 2). So be consistent. If you use formal language in the opening paragraphs, use formal language throughout. If your sentence structure is usually simple or complex, think carefully about how you plan to keep the same structure as you get deeper into your writing. In short, make choices that you can comfortably sustain throughout a paper. Think of your writing as a whole, similar to a car. If you have different styles for each part, in the end the car will look pretty terrible. Consistency is key, even if the end product is simple and refined.

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Tutorials » Language and Choice: How the words you use affects the meaning

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