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The Importance of Word Choice

Updated on October 18, 2014

The American poet William Carlos Williams said "It is not what you say that matters, but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages." Undoubtedly it is easy for a poet to snap quotes about saying what you mean in the perfect manner, but for the bulk of writers this "secret of the ages" is the cause of frustration, irritation, and writer's block. You know what you want to say, but when you read your work it just doesn't seem to be expressing your ideas.

Choosing the perfect word is difficult, but also vastly rewarding. Words have weight, and what you choose to put into your paper can float it or sink it. Whether to use "good" or "magnificent" can mean the difference between a "good" grade or a . . . well, you get the drift. The word you choose to use can change what your idea is implying, change the tone in which your idea is conveyed, or even change the meaning of what you are saying! Let me give an anecdote to illustrate.

I took my 14 month old son to the ER for stitches in his face, a situation that was high anxiety for all involved. The baby would need to be restrained, and the nurse needed to tell me so. However, the words he chose to use were: "We are going to have to tie up, uh, tie down..." He trailed off, at a loss for words.

"Bundle?" I suggested. "We are going to have to bundle the little boy?"

Word choice matters. If my wife had heard "tie up" she would have slapped the man. The nurse himself could hear what he was saying and knew his word choice was not ideal.

Your audience dictates what words you should use to convey your thoughts. Sometimes you need to be discrete, sometimes you should be blunt. When deciding what your audience needs, it is good to remember that size matters. Academia often rewards the use of ponderous, even recondite, words to lend intelligence and gravitas to a pedagogic enterprise. Business memo words are short and to the point. Poets paint with the words themselves, preferring to pause with prose rather than punctuation.

Unfortunately, knowing that you need a better word is not the same as knowing the better word needed. Luckily, there are options. While writing this article I used Google search to find synonyms for words, and even for a phrase: "overly complex." The old fashioned Thesaurus is always a help when avoiding repetition, and of course there is the premium route of using editing services.

Services such as those offered at CollegePaperReview can be the strongest defense against banality, and can ensure that your paper is saying what you mean, how you mean it. Many people may balk at the thought of paying someone to find the right words for them, but in many cases it can save enormous time and heartache. Editors deal with words like landscapers deal with grass. At CollegePaperReview we can find the right word, put it in the right place, and leave your readers with the right idea.


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