Choosing the wrong words can have a poor effect on your writing and on you. Whether you are writing a cover letter for a job, a business proposal, or an application essay for graduate school, using words poorly can result in negative feedback. One could find entire books regarding word choices for writers; this article will touch on some fundamental, but important ways to choose the correct word for your situation.
Our starting point will be the use of “There are” or “There is” to begin sentences. Consider this; the word “there” indicates “not here” (in other words, some other place). Now look at the sentence below and think about what the meaning is and what might be intended.
There are four dogs playing with a ball.
If the writer meant that four dogs are over there and they are playing with a ball, then this would be technically correct. If the intention was merely that four dogs are playing with a ball, here, there, or anywhere, then the sentence could be worded better. The following sentence would show better wording on the writer’s part.
Four dogs are playing with a ball.
The next two words that writers often confuse are “which” and “that. ” If the goal of your writing is to describe something and you have used commas to separate the phrase from the rest of the sentence you want to use “which. ” When a writer wants a word to define and the reference is restricted then you want to use “that. ” The first sentence below shows the correct use of “that” and the second sentence shows correct use of “which. ”
The Yodo is the river that runs through Osaka.
The Yodo, which is a major waterway, runs though Osaka.
Our next word choice is between “while” and “although. ” Another way of thinking about the word “although” is to look at its meaning, as found on Merriam-Webster Online dictionary the meaning is, “in spite of the fact that : even though. ”(1) The definition of “while” indicates a relation to time, such as during a period when something else is happening. Two correctly worded sentences are below.
Although he is not tall, he is a good basketball player.
While he listened to the radio, he finished his homework.
A writer’s choice between “since” and “because” also involves the possibility of a reference to time. Many people use “since” when they really mean “because, ” this is rarely a correct use of the word “since. ” When choosing a word to suggest “from a definite past time until now”(1) use “since. ” If you are not referring to time, “because” should be the word you choose. Try using “because, ” if your sentence doesn’t make sense then you probably want to use “since. ” In the examples below the two incorrect sentences do not sound correct, while the correct sentences actually sound better.
Incorrect: He had few friends since he was too annoying.
Correct: He had few friends because he was too annoying.
Incorrect: He has not ridden a bicycle because 1990.
Correct: He has not ridden a bicycle since 1990.
Whether you are writing an essay for school or you are writing a speech for your CEO, choose your words carefully because what people hear or read from you can make a big difference in their opinion about you and your intelligence. For anyone writing, regardless of topic, length, or purpose, ask for assistance if you need it, not doing so can have serious repercussions on your reputation.
1. Merriam-Webster Online. 20 January 2005. http://m-w.com/
David is the owner of Blue Arch Consulting, a proofreading and editing business helping clients worldwide to generate English documents of all types. Their website is at http://www.blue-arch.net