Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

Precise Language

One of the most difficult skills to master in the art of writing is specificity, but if we can master this skill, our writing can come alive and make the journey of our thought processes clear and accessible to our readers. We must always remember that only the words written on the paper can be read and attempt to give our readers clear and precise word imagery in order to make our ideas understandable.

For example the phrase “really good” has a variety of applications.

Example 1:
I am having a really good day.

We all know that there are different types of “really good” days. Is it a good vacation day or work day? Are you talking about the weather? Is it a good day with friend or alone? Is it lucky? fun? moving quickly? This type of vague sentence leaves your reader with questions. To fix it try asking yourself what you mean by “really good”.

Is it a ______

productive day?
lucky day?
restful day?
rewarding day?
eventful day?
sunny day?

Note: All of these words are equitable to “really good,” but they give your reader a much more specific idea about your particular meaning.

Let’s try another:

This ice cream is really good.

Some people like chocolate and some people do not. Some people love sprinkles and toppings while others like their ice cream plain. Ask yourself what it is exactly that makes the ice cream “really good”.

Is the ice cream _______

very creamy?
very chocolaty?
filled with mixings?
silky?
the perfect temperature?

Again any of these words could mean “really good,” but they all give your reader a much more specific context.

Imagery

Another time we can improve our language precision is when we are describing images. We must try to place the most accurate image in the minds of our readers that we possibly can.

For instance the sentence, “There is a girl in a dress” can apply to either of these images.

Image 1:
Image 2:

Notice how different these two pictures are from one another, and yet both images could be stated as “There is a girl in a dress”. This crossing sentiment could confuse your reader and keep him/her from understanding your meaning. Precise language will eliminate this confusion by creating a well-defined mental image for your reader to hold on to. Let’s ask some questions to try for a stronger sentence.

 

What type of girl?

What type of dress?

What type of action?

What is the primary emotion/ tone of image?

Image 1

Ballerina? Dancer? Graceful?

Tutu? Pink? Flimsy? Soft? Flowing? Tight?

Dancing? On Point? Stretched?
Rehearsing?

Focus? Tension?
Elegance? Poised?

Image 2

Bride?
Bridal Model?
Attractive?

Bridal gown? White? Jeweled? Billowing? Full?

Posing? Blushing? Smiling? Modeling?

Happiness? Nervousness? Stylish? Charming?

Now that you have more specific word choices, let’s craft a more accurate sentence for each of these images. Remember not to “over do it” with adjectives; too many modifiers make a sentence bulky and slow your reader down.

Image 1: The elegant ballerina in the soft pink tutu is rehearsing for a show.

Image 2: The happy, young bride is posing for her wedding photo in a jeweled gown.

Unlike the original sentence, each of these translates into a clear and precise mental image for your reader, and will make your writing much easier to understand and follow.