Word Choices

  • Assures that Your Readers Precisely Understand the Manuscript                                         

Word choices, the last step.

You have drafted and outlined your manuscript, and carefully linked all sentences and paragraphs.  Now, spend a
few days examining specific word choices.  For example, do you start a sentence with 'this' or 'furthermore' twice
in the same paragraph?  The reader will notice this.  How many times do you use was, were, are, and is?  Did you
redundantly write 'by using'?  (Just write 'using').  Choose words more carefully, and the meaning of your writing
becomes clearer.  Thus, by inspecting word choices, you improve the manuscript and assure that readers
understand your intended meaning.

Why do this step last?  Some of the choices are dependent on the place of the sentence.  As you move these in
the manuscript, some words must be changed.  But sometimes you move a sentence more than once, and as
choosing specific words is a demanding step, you could waste a significant amount of time early in the process as
you painstakingly re-examine each sentence.  Wait until the sentences fall into place, and then examine word
choices.

How word choices affect readers.

When writing in English, ESL writers face several challenges.  Word choice is one of these.  But the ESL writer
faces an additional challenge, that of specificity in translation.  This was documented in a recent report in EMBO
Journal (Volume 4, Issue 5, p. 440). In this report, an interesting example was given for Asian writers.  I say
interesting, because I have seen it three times!  The example involves the use of 'alleviate'.  Native English
speakers generally use this word to indicate a reduction in pain.  Asian writers use this word, not incorrectly, to
indicate any reduction in load.  Here is an example, written by a colleague from Tsinghua University:

  • Because only a catalytic amount of ERK2/pTpY is needed, this method alleviates the requirement for large
    quantities of phospho-ERK2.

When I read this sentence it seems awkward.  I understand the meaning, but I spend a few moments thinking
about how I would word the sentence.  This is a good example of how writers lose the reader's attention!  Here is
how I rewrote the sentence:

  • Because only a catalytic amount of ERK2/pTpY is needed, large quantities of phospho-ERK2 are not
    required.

Note that in the edited sentence, I changed requirement to a verb (required), thereby eliminating the need for a
supporting verb.  The sentence I wrote is not necessarily better structured, but it does not contain the distracting
word.

A final thought.

Whenever possible, place the most important word or phrase at the end of a sentence.  This technique often
requires that you rearrange sentences (see
rearrange to link).  However, your task is ultimately simplified, because
this word or phrase will lead to the next sentence or idea.  Thus, you better link sentences and paragraphs by
placing the most important word or phrase at the end of a sentence.
Word choices

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