An interesting discussion on word choice occurred during my editing class last night. Obviously a good writer should be mindful of each and every word that can go into a document. Despite this fact novice writers often misjudge the value of words that hold similar meanings.
Case in point, this was the first sentence that appeared on a draft for an actual guide for novice gardeners we were editing in class:
“There is more than one way to do a garden.”
The sentence as it appears is technically correct. Gardening is certainly not an exact science. Yet the reader might agree that there are better ways to phrase this sentence…specifically that troublesome “do” word. Our class quickly noted some possible replacements like plant or build. Yet despite our best efforts a single, perfect word eluded us.
The obstacle in coming up with the right replacement word revolves around several important factors for this little gardening guide: how formal do you want to be? What is the best way to reach out to the novice gardener?
Many words appear usable synonymously within a sentence. Yet specific word holds a major impact on the message the writer attempts to present. Should I say “build a garden” and treat the process like a construction project? Maybe it would be better to say “plant a garden” and go straight into a garden-based tone? Perhaps I want to appeal to fashionable sorts and say “design a garden” instead.
Considering that this is the introduction to a novice-level guide to gardening, these sorts of word choices are rather important. They set the tone for the rest of your guide. A sloppy writer would introduce gardening like a carefully planned construction project and then maneuver the language to indirectly suggest that appearance is everything.
The important thing to consider is that similar words often have different meanings. Don’t say ‘plethora’ in place of ‘a lot’ for example. While plethora often implies a large number, the point of the word is to express overabundance, or too much.
Just a little something to consider the next time you read a famous work. What logic did the author follow in word choice? Why is it that the Man In Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed? Why was it the best of times? Why was it the worst of times? Deep stuff, word choice.