Vocabulary- When and How to let it shine

My name is Joy and I’ve recently started a new blog. I’ve been writing for years, but I have recently discovered that there are many differences between writing a story and writing a blog, and the most obvious differences have to do with vocabulary.

There is no doubt that vocabulary is a very important tool for a writer. The use of good vocabulary is what takes a series of words on a paper and turns them into a living, breathing idea. Done correctly, it takes that idea and makes it, at least temporarily… tangible. It is what draws the reader in, catches their interest and allows them to imagine the sight and sound and SMELL of what you have written on the paper.

Of course, things like proper grammar and sentence structure and such are important to a writer as well but you can have the most properly structured, grammatically correct sentence that endows the reader with important information, and still lose your readers interest.

That’s why, when I started writing my blog, and I noticed a tendency to use certain words repetitiously, I was dismayed. The difference of course, has to do with the length of your work.

For example: If you write a chapter in a story, and it is twenty pages long, and you have used the word ‘beautiful’ five times, it is likely that that will go unnoticed by the reader. However, if you write a one page blog post, and use the word “beautiful” five times… not only is it obvious, it takes away from the quality of your writing and gives the impression of laziness.

This is why, when I noticed the tendency to use certain words often, I decided that it would be worthwhile to brush up on my vocabulary and to make it a point to use more varied words in my writing.

To help me along, and to share my idea with other literary souls, I added a Word of The Day post to my blog. Every few days, I try to add new words, their definitions, and whenever possible, Synonyms as well.

I also went out and started reading posts written by other people that had to with writing. Posts with advice about things like Tense, First Person, View point, that sort of thing, and it is then that I realized that vocabulary also has the power to alienate your reader.

Here is what happened, and the conclusions that I have made because of it.

I went to read a post that was based on good ways to start a novel. Seems like a fairly important topic and I was very interested in what it had to say. If I were to guess, I would say that it was written by a university English Major or a Professor… someone with a very in-depth knowledge of the topic.

I started reading and almost immediately got lost. I consider myself to have a fairly good vocabulary, but in many cases, the terminology that the writer was using was completely outside of my understanding, and because of that, I was unable to follow along. I got bogged down in terms I didn’t know, and then I got frustrated and I exited the post.

This brings me to the main reason that I wanted to write this post. A little lightbulb went on above my head and I realized that the reader’s ability to understand the vocabulary is just as important as your ability to use it!

Vocabulary is a wonderful tool, as long as we use it in a manner that works and in order to do that, we must first understand our audience.

Before you dust off your thesaurus and pull out your dictionary, decide who your audience is going to be, and change the type of vocabulary accordingly.

Here are some examples:

Writing for peers-

If you are a Doctor, making a presentation to other Doctors, then by all means, break out your big words, technical terms and medical jargon because you can rest assured that your audience will understand the meaning of them.  In this case you can dust off that dictionary and let your light shine. Show off and be proud of your vast knowledge.

Writing to Students-

By this I mean, your audience will be someone that you hope to teach something to. Someone you would like to impart your knowledge to. This person may have a very limited knowledge of the topic at hand, and in this case using language or terminology that they aren’t familiar with will hinder their ability to learn.

Yes, you can and should, use terminology that is relevant to the topic, most especially if they will need to know it at a later date. HOWEVER, you must ensure that you are also providing a clear definition of each term, as well as the context in which it will apply to them or their situation.

Writing to the General Public – (such as a fiction novel)

If you have a very widely targeted audience, then again, using technical jargon or words that require them to get out a dictionary every few paragraphs could be off putting. By all means, dust off your vocabulary and be sure to use a nice variety of words. Ensure that there is enough context in sentences with unusual words that they are able to understand the gist of your idea, even if they aren’t actually familiar with the word you have used.

In fact, this is the type of writing that allows you to really have fun and play with your words, and they don’t need to be 15 letters long to make a big impact. Use vocabulary that evokes feelings, or allows visualization.

Make use of  Onomatopoeia (words that sound like the sound the word is about… like Beep or click) and Alliteration (using a series of words that begin with the same letter).

Here is an example that uses both…

The silver snake slid softly across the sloping sand. While the only word that is actually onomatopoeia is slid, the series of repeated ‘s’ sounds gives a very strong impression to the audience. It allows them to almost hear the slithering sound that the snake would be making as it slid.

Here is an example that uses Alliteration…

Little Lily Loped along the lane. This sentence, when read out loud actually gives the verbal impression of someone skipping along. Say it to yourself to see what I mean… the sound of each word rises and falls in much the same way that the sound of the person’s feet would as they skip. This immediately involves the reader and allows them to visualize whats happening.

To wrap up, I’d like to get back to how writing a blog differs from writing a longer piece, like a novel or even a short story, and how the use of a good vocabulary can help.

If I were a travel writer, and my assignment was to go to Antigua to discuss beaches (of which there are 365) … my blog could very easily end up with a large number of repetitious words.

After all, a beach is basically made up of sand or rocks and water and in order to describe each one to the reader in a way that doesn’t quickly become both repetitious and downright boring, I would need every trick in the book. As much fun as the idea of visiting each beach in Antigua would be, I could easily picture it as being the most challenging assignment possible.

I hope that this post has inspired you to polish up your big girl (or boy) words and bring them out to play, and I am confident that we will all grow and improve along with our budding vocabularies, both as writers… and as teachers.

Remember… words inspire, words educate and words touch, and anything with that kind of power Must be used wisely… and well.

Until next time…

Happy writing!

This post is contributed as Guest post by VJ Detlor