You’re a working professional, aren’t you? You should know diction is the starting point of all types of written communication. It is defined as “the choice of words for the expression of ideas.”
A good command of words, therefore, is essential to good and effective writing. If you have a poor stock of words, and if you don’t know their proper and wide range of meanings, you’re at a great disadvantage when it comes to writing. A robust vocabulary equips you to make an appropriate choice of words to express your thoughts and, thus, communicate effectively.
Vocabulary is necessary, not luxury
Building your vocabulary takes a conscious effort. Learning one or two words a day is a start, but ineffective unless you actually use what you’ve learned. Make a habit of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary you use. Try studying how they’re derived and related words in groups with a dictionary or a book of synonyms or thesaurus. You must use a word again and again to ensure that the word comes spontaneously to your mind whenever and wherever necessary. “Use a word three times and it is yours,” said a famous author. Indeed, repetition works!
Like dictionary be like your shadow
If you desire to speak or write well, a dictionary should be your constant companion. An unabridged dictionary gives fuller definitions, finer distinctions in meaning, and more data as to synonyms, antonyms, and other details than abridged dictionaries. But small or pocket dictionaries, and nowadays a host of online options, are of enormous value when you commute intracity or travel long distances.
Short, simple, apt words work best
‘Proper words in proper places’ is what defines a good style of writing. You should choose with care the words that best express what you intend to convey to your reader(s). Short, simple words are preferred to long, pretentious ones because eventually what matters is whether you can communicate clearly to your target audience.
Use, not misuse, words
Many words are acceptable (or at least tolerable) in speech but not in writing, and it is important to know the difference. Some examples:
Can vs. May: Can means “is able” to do things; may means “has/have permission”.
Incorrect: You can answer my question when you are free.
Correct: You may answer my question when you are free.
Like vs. As: Like is a preposition, while as is a conjunction.
Incorrect: You look like your father looked when he was young.
Correct: You look as your father looked when he was young.
Correct: You look like your father.
Real vs. Really. Really is an adverb; real is an adjective, which means that real cannot modify another adjective.
Incorrect: The food in your canteen tastes real good.
Correct: The food in your canteen tastes really good.
Due to vs. Because of. Due to is an adjective phrase, not a prepositional phrase, which means it has to modify something. In the sentence: His death was due to an accident, due to modifies the noun death. It is incorrect to say, He died due to an accident, because there is no noun (died is the past form of a verb i.e. “die”) for due to, to modify. If there is no noun (or equivalent) to which due can properly relate, substitute a prepositional form (because of, owing to, on account of).
There are many other words that are often confused.
English language experts are of the view that you should give overworked words a well-deserved rest. The words needing relief are great, fine, wonderful, awful. All of them are good words when used in the right places, but poor when used without accuracy and discrimination. Other “omnibus” words that come to mind are nice, get, secure, case, factor, reaction, incredible, and really. The original meanings of some of these words have become blurred. And, there are many trite, hackneyed phrases (clichés) that have lost their force and favour through overuse and indiscriminating use.
Why should a word like secure (the primary meaning of which is “to make safe or make secure”) be made to carry the burden of achieve, acquire, attain, earn, gain, obtain, procure, receive, and win? One word carrying the loads of eleven!
And, try if you can lessen your use of the word get. Replace it with one or the other from: acquire, attain, earn, gain, obtain, procure, or receive.
This much for today. My next post in the same series on Pro English is gearing up to spring a surprise or two!