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Writing Style

Word Choice (WC)

Choose your words carefully., and pay attention to the way words are used in the texts you read. The following points are some strategies and examples to guide you in choosing your words wisely.
Watch this lesson on misused modifiers in our LC elearning modules class in D2L to see how word choice impacts the meaning of your writing.
General Advice

1. Turn off “Auto-Correct” on your computer’s Word program.

     Example with Error: This particle symptom was especially painful for the patient.
2. Use an English-English dictionary to check the meaning of the word you are using, especially the first time.
     Google Translator sometimes produces strange results.
3. Paraphrase correctly.
     Word choice errors are often the result of trouble with paraphrasing. Be careful with synonym replacements because no two words in English mean exactly the same thing.
Specific Advice
4. Choose specific words that describe exactly what you mean.
(a) Delete words such as very, really, and totally.
They do not contribute to your ideas or meaning. You can usually just cross out the word, but sometimes you may need to find another more specific word.
Example with Error: This leadership style can hinder rapid decision making in very urgent situations.
Example with Error: Choosing to cover or hide a medication error is totally wrong in nursing practice.
Example with Correction: Choosing to cover or hide a medication error is unacceptable in nursing practice.
(b) Replace the verbs be, do, have, and make (when you can) with a verb that more accurately describes an action.
These verbs are useful connector and helper verbs but over-reliance on them will make your reader guess at your meaning.
Example with Error: Rewarding good performance is what defines transactional leadership. 
Example with Correction:  Rewarding good performance defines transactional leadership.
Example with Error: We did an analysis of the data.
Example with Correction: We analyzed the data.
For more, see "Replacing To Be Verbs." 

5. Carefully consider the language you use to describe people or groups.

     Referring to a person as “a diabetic” or to a group as “the elderly” places importance on a condition and removes individuality. Instead of “a diabetic patient,” use “a patient with diabetes.”  Instead of “the elderly,” use “older adults.” Refer to your course materials to find the academic language used to describe people or populations. (See the APA publication manual, pp. 131-149).

6. Beware of the pronouns this, these, or it. 
    They are often used to refer back to an idea in a previous sentence, but the idea (or word) to which they refer could be unclear to your reader. 
7. Some actions can only be done by humans!
     Examples of Errors:  This paper will talk about.....   .... The research tried to ask....
      However, you can say, “The research indicated that...” or “... showed that...”
8. Use formal words.
    Instead of kids, use children.  Instead of two-word verbs such as got up, use one word verbs such as rose or stood.
9. Short words are easier to understand than long ones.
    Do not use the word utilize if the word use will do.   
     For more, see your APA publication manual, pp. 114-115 (4.5 "Wordiness and Redundancy").
More Information
"Word Choice,"University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Lists of misused words and strategies
"Word Choice," University of Waterloo
Accuracy and audience focus


American Psychological Association. (2019). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).