Advanced Business Writing
Style and Sophistication

Diction

A writing style that communicates effectively uses just the right words in every phrase. There are often plenty of right words to use. So how do you choose just the right word?

Here is a five-step guide:

(1) Write the first-draft word.
(2) Generate a list of synonyms.
(3) Select the ones with appropriate definitions.
(4) Discard the ones that do not sound good.
(5) Choose the one with the best connotations.

Try doing all five steps with a pen and paper, on at least three occasions. After that, it will come naturally.

Example:

(1) Write the first-draft word (in its sentence).

Employees who believe in ISO 9000 will not waiver from our commitment to accomplish quality standards.

(2) Generate a list of synonyms.

accomplish
fulfill
achieve
succeed in
realize
attain
manage
bring about
carry out
execute
effect
perform
do
discharge
complete
finish
consummate
conclude
pull off
nail
effectuate

Note: If this list has few suitable synonyms, try picking the best one and then finding synonyms for that word.

(3) Select the ones with appropriate definitions (that could properly support what is being said in the sentence).

Employees who believe in ISO 9000 will not waiver from our commitment to ____ quality standards.

accomplish
fulfill
achieve
succeed in
realize
attain
effect
complete
effectuate

(4) Discard the ones that do not sound good (in the sentence).

Employees who believe in ISO 9000 will not waiver from our commitment to ____ quality standards.

accomplish
x fulfill - sounds like making the standard feel good about itself
achieve
x succeed in - sounds like a prize rather than a process
realize
x attain - sounds like it could be bought rather than earned
x effect - too scholarly
x complete - sounds like an adjective
x effectuate - too scholarly

(5) Choose the one with the best connotations (for the sentence and the reader).

Employees who believe in ISO 9000 will not waiver from our commitment to ____ quality standards.

x accomplish - seems like end point rather than ongoing process
achieve - seems like planned and ongoing process
x realize - seems like random discovery

Note: When none of the synonyms is a good fit, consider using an antonym in a re-written sentence.

Some of you are thinking, "Okay, I understand the guidance here, but English isn't my native language, so how am I supposed to know what sounds wrong or seems not quite right? The answer is: you read—a lot—and learn as you go. What to read? Try a magazine such as The Atlantic.

Lesson: Diction
Module: Style and Sophistication
Course: Advanced Business Writing