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Why is it important to choose appropriate words?

The words writers choose are shaped (and sometimes limited) by the rhetorical situation—the audience, purpose, context, genre, and media of a piece of writing.

Skillful writers choose words that create a pleasing sense of harmony between the boundaries set by the rhetorical situation and their own style of writing. When writers choose words that fall outside those defining factors, or mistakenly choose wrong words, they are faced with the task of finding appropriate words to restore satisfying harmony.

What reference works can make word choice easier?

  • Dictionary (electronic or paper): Each entry provides the word’s definition(s) and an explanation of the word’s usage. Careful consideration of a word’s meaning (its semantic connotation) and its context should guide decisions about the word’s appropriateness.
  • Thesaurus (electronic or paper): Each entry provides a list of synonyms—words that have similar meanings. When a word does not fit the context as well as it should, but the general meaning should be preserved, a thesaurus can provide a synonym with a shade of meaning that is more suitable.

How can inappropriate words be replaced with appropriate words?

  • Determine which word or words are not appropriate, such as those that:
    • are not in harmony with the rhetorical situation
    • interfere with the meaning of the sentence 
    • may offend the reader 
    • have been chosen incorrectly following a spell check
  • Evaluate the factor(s) that makes the word(s) inappropriate.
  • If a slight change of meaning is needed, use a synonym that better suits the context.
  • If the wrong word has been chosen, use the language, message, and tone of the surrounding sentences to guide the choice of a completely new word. • Reread the sentence or passage in which a word or words have been replaced to check for proper meaning and word flow.
  • Instructors, peers, writing center consultants, or librarians may be able to provide guidance with appropriate word choice, and they can often provide assistance with the use of suitable reference works.

For more information about word choice, see also: