Good writers are concise and precise, weeding out unnecessary words and choosing the exact word to convey meaning. Precise words—active verbs, concrete nouns, specific adjectives—help the reader visualize the sentence. Good writers use adjectives sparingly and adverbs rarely, letting their nouns and verbs do the work.
Follow these principles to be sure that your word choice is appropriate.
- Avoid slang. Find alternatives to lit, bougie, and low key.
- Avoid language that is overly casual. Write about “men and women” rather than “girls and guys” unless you are trying to create a specific effect. A formal tone calls for formal language.
- Avoid clichés. Overused expressions such as outside the box, back in the day, feeling blue, and similar expressions are empty of meaning and may not appeal to your audience.
- Be careful when you use words that sound alike but have different meanings. Some common examples are affect/effect, there/they’re/their, and idea/ideal. When in doubt, check a dictionary.
- Choose words with the connotations you want. Choosing a word for its connotations is as important in formal essay writing as it is in all kinds of writing. Compare the positive connotations of the word proud and the negative connotations of arrogant and conceited.
- Use specific words rather than overly general words. Find synonyms for vague words like thing, people, nice, good, bad, and interesting. Or, use specific details to make your exact meaning clear.