Edit for Diction

Being a good editor from the perspective of diction requires declarative knowledge about Archaisms; Bias-Free Language; Cliché; Concrete & Sensory Language; Figurative Language; Homonyms; Jargon; and Vague Language, Generalizations Diction matters a great deal to writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . becauses audiences are likely to ignore information and texts if it employs inappropriate diction. Use these strategies to edit your texts for diction.

A diction problem happens when you use a word in the wrong context or use a word that does not mean what you intended it to mean in that situation.

Key Concepts: Register; Rhetorical Reasoning


Writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . are wise to engage in self critique of their writing. It’s particularly important for writers to consider the appropriateness of their diction.

Texts, at least alphabetical texts, are a flow of words, a waterfall. During the early stages of the composing process, you cannot stop and critique each word you say or write it without being reduced to silence. When drafting you need to think about the big picture and not fret every word or comma.

Yet at some point. you’ve got to check your diction. Not checking diction is the equivalent of going into a gun fight without bullets. You’re gonna get slaughtered.

Your first step toward eliminating diction problems is to engage in rhetorical analysis and rhetorical reasoning. More specifically, you want to assess the language register appropriate for your rhetorical situation. Ultimately, register is your North Star when it comes to establishing an appropriate diction.

Once you know the register, you’ll have a sense of how formal you need to be. Subsequently, you can read through your text word-by-word and question if the word is sufficiently formal or informal. When you’ve used a word that you’ve heard rather than read, you should take a moment to look it up in a dictionary. To get a sense of the connotations associated with the word–or even just for fun–you might ask someone to peer review your text as well.

If you are going to use a thesaurus on a regular basis, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the way the thesaurus works. Some online programs will show closely related words in a specific color, with words shifting colors as they move away from the original meaning. Others use different systems–learn how your chosen thesaurus works before you rely on it too heavily.

  • Look for missing words or phrases: Words that are missing, misplaced, or out of order reduce readability.A missing word or phrase can obscure meaning and cause confusion. Insert missing words or phrases to complete the intended thought.
  • Look at word order after revising: Minor revision of a portion of a sentence can cause a major problem with word order. Reread each sentence after it has been revised to ensure that it still makes sense.
  • Look for misplaced or dangling modifiers: If a modifier is misplaced or is modifying a subject not mentioned in the sentence, the message could be misleading or confusing to the reader. Place modifiers as close as possible to the object being modified.
  • Look at subject-verb order: The English language usually follows the pattern subject-verb-object (SVO), but other languages may follow different patterns. Non-native English speakers may need to check their sentences for appropriate syntactical construction.
    • Example of SVO: The scholarly article explains theories on global warming. Subject = article; Verb = explains; Object = theories
    • Example of OSV: Theories on global warming the scholarly article explains. (awkward)

    [ Subject Verb Agreement ]