2.5: Word Choice
The fifth area readers will consider when evaluating your essay is word choice. It is important that the words you use be precise and that they express your ideas clearly. It is also important that the words you use are varied, so that you aren’t using the same words again and again. This resource provides tips for checking your word choice.
Choosing Appropriate Words
To make sure your language is appropriate for the GED essay, avoid the following pitfalls. First, most slang that you might use in everyday language is too casual for a formal essay. Similarly, casual language that you often use in everyday speech might create too casual a tone for an essay. Finally, clichés that we use in everyday conversation (green with envy, face the music, add insult to injury, etc.) can make your writing sound boring. Consider the paragraph and revision below.
When I started thinking about getting a new job, I was completely clueless. I knew I wanted to do something really cool, but I was lost about what might fit the bill.
When I started thinking about getting a new job, I was overwhelmed by my options and unsure of what to choose. While I knew I wanted to do something interesting, I was uncertain of what that might be.
Choosing Precise Words
When thinking about whether the language you use conveys the meaning you want, put yourself in your reader’s position. Specifically, consider the following issues:
Connotations: A connotation is an association that readers might have with a specific word. An example is the different associations brought up by the words pride and arrogance. While the two words have similar meanings, pride is generally has positive associations while arrogance carries negative associations. Consider the connotations that certain words have when choosing your language and revising for word choice.
Similar sound, different meaning: Be careful of words that sound similar but have different meanings. Some examples are alternate/alternative, intelligent/intelligible, moral/morale, portion/proportion.
General versus specific: In your writing, you will use both general and specific words. While your goal is to include both, you should try to avoid overusing words that are really general. An example is the word interesting. For example, if you describe an idea as interesting, your reader may wonder what, exactly, is interesting about it. Other examples of general words include good, thing, and some. Words like these are fine to use, but you need to add specific detail so that your writing does not become vague.
When proofreading your essay, look out for repetitive wording. Just as you should vary your sentence structure (see Lesson 4), you should also vary the words you use. As you write practice essays, you may even identify some words that you tend to use frequently. Just as you keep track of errors you often make, you can keep track of words that you overuse.
Identifying these words can help you avoid overusing them as you write. You can even keep a list of these words and look up possible alternatives to use in a thesaurus. Try to find a teacher to read your practice essays when you use new words, however. You want to be sure you’re using a new word correctly.
Transition words are clues to your reader that help them follow your ideas. You can use these words to link and transition between ideas, sentences, and paragraphs. For example, writers often use transition words when listing ideas, as in the following paragraph:
I prefer watching television shows instead of movies for a number of reasons. First, TV shows are shorter, so I don’t spend as much time watching them as I do when watching movies. Second, TV shows are drawn out over many episodes over many seasons, so I can get to know the characters better than the characters in a two-hour movie. Finally, I like watching television shows more than watching movies because they give me something to look forward to each week.
You can use transition words for a variety of purposes aside from listing. Transition words for different purposes are listed below. Try using these in your writing to help guide readers through your essay.
- To show examples: for example, for instance
- To show sequence: first, second, third, etc., next, then, following this, finally, consequently, subsequently, thus, therefore, hence
- To add: and, again, and then, besides, equally important, finally, further, furthermore, nor, too, next, lastly, what's more, moreover, in addition, first (second, etc.)
- To compare: but, yet, on the other hand, however, nevertheless, on the contrary, by comparison, where, compared to, although, in contrast, although this may be true
- To summarize or conclude: in brief, summing up, to conclude, in conclusion, as I have shown, as I have said, hence, therefore, thus, consequently
- To emphasize: definitely, extremely, obviously, in fact, indeed, absolutely, positively, naturally, surprisingly, always, forever, never, emphatically, unquestionably, without a doubt, certainly, undeniably
- To show time: immediately, thereafter, soon, finally, then, later, previously, formerly, first (second, etc.), next.