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Writing Center

Using Words Wisely

So what?

Using effective word choice in writing may seem like a no-brainer. However, there are many ways that words are misused in writing. Inappropriate word choice can make a writer seem pretentious, redundant, unoriginal, and careless. When writing, one should aim for the opposite. Relatable, concise, original, and intentional word choice helps readers understand and respect a writer's ideas.

Summary Explanation

  • Avoid commonly confused words.
  • Avoid biased, absolute statements.
  • Avoid first- and second-person perspective.
  • Avoid wordy sentences. 

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Detailed Explanation

Confused Words

In English, there are many words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Avoid mixing up such words. Every time you edit a text, make sure to check for commonly confused words, some of which are listed below in the examples.

Incorrect

Correct

Word choice and punctuation are essential for effective writing; they’re usage is fundamental for all writers.

they’re = they are

Word choice and punctuation are essential for effective writing; their usage is fundamental for all writers.

their = possession

Just like punctuation, word choice has the potential to distract readers; it can take away from a writer’s credibility to.

to = preposition indicating direction or part of an infinitive (to + verb)

Just like punctuation, word choice has the potential to distract readers; it can take away from a writer’s credibility too.

too = also

Word choice says a lot about a writer, so it’s value cannot be underestimated.

it’s = it is

Word choice says a lot about a writer, so its value cannot be underestimated.

its = possession

For more examples of commonly confused words, see this resource.

Absolute Statements

Absolute statements can make a writer sound biased. Bias in writing is something to be avoided; it can make you seem partial and unwilling to consider other views. As a writer, you should aim to sound fair and respectful regardless of how firmly you hold to your ideas.

Incorrect

Correct

Word choice is the most important aspect of writing

Word choice may be the most important aspect of writing.

Or

Word choice is one of the most important aspects of writing.

You can never write an effective text without appropriate word choice.

You can rarely write an effective text without appropriate word choice.

All new writers struggle with effective word choice.

Many new writers struggle with effective word choice.

Inappropriate Perspective/Point-of-view

Perspective/Point-of-view is an important aspect to consider because it can greatly affect the tone of your writing. You do not want to sound too formal or too casual. The intended audience will determine what perspective is appropriate. Academic writing typically calls for third-person perspective (he/she/it/they/one/a person/etc.). In general, second-person (your/yours) and first-person (I/me/my/mine/we/us/ours) perspective should be avoided in academic writing (except when writing a personal reflection, which permits “I” statements).

Incorrect (in academic writing)

Correct (in academic writing)

You should aim for effective word choice based on a given audience.

One should aim for effective word choice based on a given audience.

Or

A writer/person should aim for effective word choice based on a given audience.

I think that word choice is overlooked by a lot of writers.

One could say that word choice is overlooked by a lot of writers.

Or

Word choice is overlooked by a lot of writers.

We must consider the power of our words and use them wisely.

People/Writers must consider the power of their words and use them wisely.

Wordy Sentences

American academic writing typically values concisely worded sentences. Readers should be able to follow your written ideas easily. Excessive and redundant words or phrases can be distracting and laborious for readers. Always ask yourself, “Can this be written more succinctly?”

Incorrect

Correct

As far as persuasion is concerned, word choice can enhance or detract from a text’s effectiveness. 

Concerning persuasion, word choice can enhance or detract from a text’s effectiveness. 

Due to the fact that word choice is somewhat objective, writers must be well aware of their audience each time they write.

Because word choice is somewhat objective, writers must be well aware of their audience each time they write.

A writer who is effective will use intentional language and tone.

An effective writer will use intentional language and tone.