05F5344A-FC0C-8CD8-1FA30D7E58357248
3823B107-0091-6EF8-A196B16030031057

The Essentials of Writing

The Hamilton College Style Sheet

Essentials of English Usage

Diction, or word choice ("d")

Use words with precision.

It is an error of diction (sometimes called an error of literacy) to confuse such words as the following:

affect and effect
allude and elude
almost and most
less and fewer
imply and infer
its and it's
their and there
lie and lay
like and as
to, two,
and too
presently and currently or now
blatant and obvious
complement
and compliment
amount
and number
incident
and incidence
principal and principle
disinterested and uninterested
hopefully and I hope
prophecy and prophesy

 
Use a dictionary to look up and understand the meaning of these words. For more information, refer to Commonly Confused Words.

Avoiding errors is necessary but does not in itself produce good diction.  Decide what you mean; then choose the precise word or words that express your meaning.  If your thought can be efficiently expressed in concrete terms, such terms are better than their abstract equivalents.  Try to avoid colorless verbs and adjectives, dead metaphors, trite expressions, and any constructions that you would be embarrassed to read aloud. For example:

 1. The chapel is a very nice building with an interesting steeple.
[Ok, but what does it look like?]

 2. One of the many things I liked about the story was its style.
[Things and style are both exceedingly vague. This sentence and the one above were probably written by someone who did not know what he or she wanted to say. The writer should think more carefully before writing.]

 3. It goes without saying that it is time we stopped regarding Indians as something out of the past with no relevance to America in this day and age.
[If it goes without saying, don't say it. These are trite expressions. Better: Clearly, we should stop regarding Native Americans as having no relevance to America today.]

 4. He seemed oblivious about what I was capable to do.
[Unidiomatic expression. Better: He seemed unaware of what I was capable of doing.]

 5. Othello cannot deal with Iago's statements about Desdemona.
[Vague and informal. Better: Othello cannot think rationally when he hears Iago's accusations against Desdemona.]

 See also Wordiness ("w") and Jargon ("j") in this handbook.