More on Using Precise Language

Many memoir writers are under the impression that you need to have an extensive vocabulary to write. An extensive vocabulary can only help you—if by “extensive” you mean many precise words, not just big ones.

Precise words are specific and not vague and ineffective like nice, awful, big, OK. “She was nice” is vague. “She understands different points of view” is specific.

“He was awfully big” is vague. You might write instead: “My father measured six foot five and weighed 275 pounds.”

Don’t write: “The job was OK.” Write: “The job was in my field of competence, but its salary was inadequate and its requirements did not challenge me.”

In each of these examples, I have added meaning where I replaced vague words with precise language, but I did not use big words. “She was nice” does not qualify how she was nice or what I understand nice to mean as opposed to what the reader might understand nice to mean.

Go over your text. Look at individual words. Does each of your words carry full weight or do you have flabby words like nice and awful. If you do, replace them with specific (not necessarily big) words and phrases that contribute precisely to your meaning.

When writers make use of vague or flabby words and phrases, they have not taken the time to explore the depth and breadth of what they are writing about. Like cliches and stereotypes, flabby words and phrases are lazy forms of writing. They communicate very little—when you need so very much to communicate all you have lived!

Remember: replace all flabby words or phrases with others that convey precise and full meaning. You will not be there to notice the confusion appear on your reader’s face as she struggles to understand your text. You will not be there to say, “What I really mean is…”

Make each word work for you!

Good luck writing!

Click here to learn more about working with a < a href=”; title=”memoir editor”>memoir editor</a> to improve your writing.


About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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2 Responses to More on Using Precise Language

  1. Helen Suk says:

    I enjoyed every word of it. But it ends in 2011. Is there more?

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