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Choose Your Words: Tone and Language

Note how the words listed in each of the following groups have approximately the same meaning, but each conveys a tone different from that of others in the group.
Words like kid, pal, ticked off, geek, and spooky are not appropriate in formal academic writing or business letters, but they will raise no eyebrows in journalism, advertising, and e-mail. Overusing words such as progeny, comrade, and wrathful, on the other hand, could create an overly formal tone that does not sound natural and genuine.

The language of speech    When you write college essays, your tone should consistently be at a formal rather than a colloquial level. Do not enclose a slang expression in quotation marks to signal to your readers that you know it is inappropriate. Instead, revise.
  Faulty    The sound of sirens gets to me.
  Revised    The sound of sirens affects me powerfully.

  Faulty    The working conditions were "gross."
  Revised    The working conditions were disgusting.
 
In formal writing, avoid colloquial words and expressions, such as folks, guy, OK, okay, pretty good, hassle, king of interesting/nice, too big of a deal, a lot of, lots of, a ways away.

Regional and ethnic language   Regional and ethnic dialects are variations of standard English. Avoid using them in writing unless you are quoting someone directly or know that readers will understand that you are using a nonstandard phrase for effect, in order to make a point.
  Faulty    I bought me a camcorder.
  Revised    I bought myself a camcorder.

  Faulty    She used to could run two miles, but now she's out of shape.
  Revised    She used to be able to run two miles, but now she's out of shape.
 
The language of the workplace   Most areas of specialized work and study have their own technical words, which people outside those fields perceive as jargon. A sportswriter writing about baseball will, for instance, refer to pinch hitters, bunts, balks, twilight double headers, shutouts, knuckle balls, and bullpens. A linguist writing about language to an audience of other linguists will use terms like phonemics, socialinguistics, semantics, kinesics, and suprasegmentals. If you know that your audience is familiar with the technical vocabulary of the field, specialized language is acceptable. Try to avoid jargon when writing for a more general audience; if you must use technical terms, provide definitions that will make sense to your audience.

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See also
Word Choice Checklist
Dictionary and Thesaurus
Exact Words and Connotations
Figurative Language
Avoiding Biased Language
Avoiding Tired and Pretentious Language