Choose the Right Words

Last Thursday, we began looking at ways to be more clear in your writing by eliminating redundancies and overwriting, and choosing simple words when appropriate.

Today, let’s look at how the right word also helps your reader grasp your meaning.

Alive or dead?

Perfect words are the difference between writing that leaps off the page and writing that just lays lies there, waiting for resuscitation. Words that show are more powerful than words that tell. (Thanks to Terrie Todd!)

Many times using words that evoke our senses (taste, sight, hearing, touch, smell) adds much-needed pizzazz to your writing and engages readers. In the July issue of ACFW Journal, award-winning author Deborah Raney offers great advice on how to make your readers’ senses come alive in your writing.

As important as sensory involvement is, there is more to choosing the perfect word. Or, as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Sometimes the right word will fall naturally into your manuscript—particularly if you’re an avid reader. Writers who read a lot (note: the word alot does not exist and is therefore never correct) have a greater storehouse of words to draw from.

But more often than not, writers have to search for the perfect word. Here is great information from the website, On Blogging Well, that provides six ways to do that.

Beware the sound-a-likes

One last thing. Watch out for homophones. Homophones are two or more words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spellings.

As writing becomes increasingly informal what used to be common knowledge is not so common anymore. Your and You’re, as well as there, their and they’re, and even to, too and two, are frequently used incorrectly.

So, if those common homophones are confused, be sure to look out for:

  • air/heir
  • aisle/isle
  • brake/break
  • cereal/serial
  • complement/compliment
  • flour/flower
  • hear/here
  • made/maid
  • morning/mourning
  • peace/piece
  • pray/prey
  • principal/principle
  • sew/so/sow
  • stationary/stationery
  • and the like.

If these confuse you, bookmark this page.

Do you have tips for enhancing clarity? Share them!

Next Thursday: Get your writing up and moving!

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line



8 thoughts on “Choose the Right Words

  1. “…writing that just lays there…” Really, Michael? I thought I finally had the lays, lies thing figured out and now this. Either you goofed, or I need to go back to “The Write Way” . . . again. Or maybe it’s a test.

  2. One that bit me was flare/flair. I know the difference, know which one should have been typed (flair). But, alas, no one caught it before the printing, at which point it stood out like a “flare.” It’s fixed for the second print run (as are a few other bloopers and one major gaffe). Lesson: hiring an editor is no guarantee every error will get found.

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