A word choice error occurs when a chosen word is incorrect or inappropriate. For example:
- Behind a wall of animosity, we can often speak with impunity.
While “animosity” is spelled correctly, it does not work in the sentence. The correct word is “anonymity.” Word choice relies on your knowledge of vocabulary and often on the subtle differences in word meaning. Because synonyms often mean the same generally, you should never randomly pick a synonym without knowing how it differs in meaning from the word you would like to replace. Often a stronger, more accurate word should be chosen:
- The Clinton administration formed a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
“To form” means “to shape or give structure to” and does not accurately convey the proper meaning in the context of the sentence. Try:
- The Clinton administration adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
“To adopt” means “to select and take or approve.” Here, “adopted” suggests a willing initiation of a policy, rather than a structure that “formed” implied.
Word choice errors will often occur with homonyms, or words that sound the same, but have different meanings and often different spellings:
- They did not notice there errors.
Be careful with these errors: spell checkers are not smart enough (yet!) to catch them. “There” should be “their”:
They did not notice their errors.
Effects of Word Choice
Along with definition use, word choice also dictates the tone of your writing. Biases, discrimination, preferences, and personel views can all be illustrated through the writer's word choice. Many writers attempt to use subtle implications of their views while others use more obvious forms. Choosing which words to use and what implications they convey is critical to appealing to the intended audience. Writers must always "be alert to the ways language can reflect and perhaps reinforce biases" (Sutcliffe 6). Along with biases, offensive language is not restricted to obvious slurs, "offensive language can take more sublte forms" as well (Hacker 138). However, the right word in a sentece can make it all the more compelling, "[good] usage adds force, precision, and credibility to all writing" (Sutcliffe 6). Words can help the write appeal to the audiences emotions and feelings on the subject (Barnet 136). The word choice that an author chooses is crucial to how the writing turns out and it must always be monitered to ensure it follows the author's purpose.
Sutcliffe, Andrea J. ed. The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage. New York: Stonsong Press Book, 1994.
Hacker, Diana. A Writer's Reference. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003
Barnet, Slyvan, and Huga Bedau. From Critical Thinking to Argument: A Portable Guide. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005