How To Choose The Right Word

Writers tend to use the wrong word more often then the right one. As a writer you have a duty to write prose that makes sense, reads well, and interests the reader. Jacques Barzun, in

, defines rhetoric as “the craft of setting down words and marks right.” Don’t make the reader search for the meaning you intend. Pay careful attention to the words you use.
Don’t forget that you must teach yourself. There are books and writing classes and mentors, but no one can force you to write lucidly. Study writing, read books about writing, and read widely. If you need a place to start, pick up a copy of  and . Wordsmithy has practical advice and will lead you you to dozens of other resources in your weaker areas. Simple & Direct is a writing class in a book and will improve your writing before you finish the introduction.

Here are a few simple rules for choosing the right word adapted from


1. Use active writing when possible. One easy way to improve your writing is to make sure you have a concrete subject in every sentence, then tell the reader what it does or has done to it.

2. Avoid jargon. Don’t make your writing sound more technical then it is.

3. Do not make up new words. Avoid adding -itis, -holic, -phobia, and the like to create new words. Find the right word that conveys your intended meaning.

4. Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms. Always spell out exactly what you mean to avoid confusion.

 says it best. “Prefer the short word to the long; the concrete to the abstract; and the familiar to the unfamiliar.” Keep these principles in mind and continue to learn more about writing.