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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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What is Diction in Writing?

In written works, diction refers to a writer’s word choices. Diction in writing is all about how a writer uses specific words in order to affect how a reader feels about something or how they imagine the scene the author is trying to set. This connection between how a word makes a person feel and how they connect it to other words is called connotation. Diction and tone also go hand in hand, as word choice can greatly impact the overall tone of a work, which illustrates the author’s feelings or attitude toward a topic. When thinking about how to improve diction, it is important to consider how to use diction in order to convey tone, point-of-view, and images to the reader. One of the best examples of diction in English literature is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, as her colloquial diction shows the reader exactly how the characters sound and demonstrates the main character’s background. Another great example is the poem ”This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams, as the descriptive and deliberate vocabulary helps the poet to emphasize the themes of temptation.

Basic Types of Diction

There are a few basic types of diction in writing that can be useful to consider when thinking about how to improve diction.

Formal diction uses proper grammar and sentence structure as well as professional and sophisticated language. For example, a sentence written in formal diction might state: ”As per our arrangement, the panel will convene at twelve o’clock.” Informal diction, on the other hand, is more conversational, realistic, and focuses less on proper language. An informal sentence might be: ”Let’s grab a bite to eat sometime.”

Colloquial diction uses informal language that is usually specific to a particular area or region and can make characters sound more realistic. For example, a character from the southern part of the United States might say, ”How are y’all doing today?” Slang diction is similar, but instead uses informal language that was created by a specific group or for a specific context. For instance, a character using slang might say the phrase ”spill the tea” to ask someone to explain something dramatic that happened.

Pedantic diction implements academic writing, which includes formal and advanced academic language. In this case, a pedantic sentence could be: ”The class fell under the tutelage of a new instructor who was fond of erudite discussions.” Abstract diction aims to express ideas or emotions. For example, a character might describe a ”storm of ideas” inside their head to illustrate that they are feeling inspired.

Concrete diction is used to express ideas that are not open for interpretation and is typically specific and detailed. A sentence using concrete diction could be: ”My office is the third blue door on the right-hand side.” Poetic diction is most commonly used in poetry and uses lyrical words that are often descriptive and follow rhythm or meter. For example, a poem using lyrical diction might deliberately use words that rhyme, such as ”There we go / Dancing nice and slow.”

These types of diction do not have to be used alone and can instead be combined to create more interesting and unique language within a work. For example, a poet could mix poetic and abstract diction in order to create a lyrical poem that describes feelings or ideas.

Tone and Diction

Diction can showcase different tones, like happiness, sadness, anger, and nervousness.

An image of a woman in a blue shirt in a sad, happy, angry, and nervous mood.

One great way to use diction in writing is to emphasize the tone. Tone demonstrates the author’s attitude or feelings toward a particular topic. Because word choice can greatly influence the tone of a work, diction and tone go hand in hand. In fact, diction can make a sentence’s tone sound completely different, which can be seen in the example below.

  • Formal diction: ”I am traveling to the mall this weekend. I will purchase pants and boots.”
  • Informal diction: ”I can’t wait to go to the mall this weekend. I’m going to pick up some new pants and some cute boots.”

The sentence written in formal diction provides more of a neutral tone, as the character does not seem excited or reluctant to go to the mall. However, the sentence written in informal diction shows a more excited tone. While both sentences convey the same information, the difference in word choice changes the tone. Adjectives can be good tone words to use, as they add extra information to the sentence that can alter how the author or a character appears to feel to the reader. In the example above, ”new” and ”cute” are generally positive adjectives, which help to make the tone more excited, rather than neutral.

Good Tone Words to Use in Your Writing

Diction is a great way to change the tone of a written work. The table below demonstrates how good tone words can convey a happy, sad, angry, or desperate tone in writing.

Happy Tone Sad Tone Angry Tone Desperate Tone
Cheery Dreary Absurd Forlorn
Elated Mournful Scathing Despondent
Ecstatic Solemn Outraged Hopeless

Point-of-View and Diction

Point-of-view decides how a reader sees the world.

A photo of glasses looking out over a city.

In addition to tone, diction in writing can also be used to affect point-of-view, which is the narrator of a work’s position within the story being told. Point-of-view is established primarily through personal pronouns and the type of point-of-view can be determined via diction. The different types are as follows:

  • First-person point-of-view is told from the viewpoint of a character in the story. It uses specific diction like the personal pronoun ”I” in order to give the reader an insight into that character’s thoughts and feelings. Diction can also be used to make the writing feel more personal to the reader.
  • Second person point-of-view is told from a character talking directly to the reader. It uses the personal pronoun ”you” in order to address the reader specifically. Diction can make this point-of-view draw the reader in to be a part of the story.
  • Third person point-of-view is told from the viewpoint of a narrator, rather than a character. The narrator can be omniscient, meaning they know everything in the story, or limited, meaning the information that they know about the story is limited to some degree. This point-of-view uses ”he” or ”she” and diction can be used to make this type of writing more personal or more detached.

Examples of Using Diction for Point-of-View

When learning how to improve diction and use it for point-of-view, it is important to look at some examples.

  • First person: ”I am a doctor. It is the best job I have ever had.”
  • Second person: ”You are a doctor. It is the best job you have ever had.”
  • Third person: ”She is a doctor. It is the best job she has ever had.”

Right away, the diction used to decide the pronouns changes how each sentence is read. However, diction in writing can also give the reader more information. In first-person, the diction allows the reader to get a glimpse into the thoughts of the main character directly. Because of this, there is more of an enthusiastic tone to their voice. The writer could add to this by implementing informal diction like, ”It’s the best job I’ve had in my entire life!” Since the reader is inside the character’s head, it is more likely that they will be using conversational language and will be more specific in their comparisons.

In contrast, the second person point-of-view tells the reader what they feel, which gives it more of a commanding tone, rather than an excited one. A writer could add to this by writing something like, ”It is the best job you have ever had, for now.” This type of language could add some intrigue by implying the reader is only at a certain point in the story and there is more to come.

In the third-person point-of-view, the narrator tells the reader that being a doctor is the best job the character has had, but there is not as much excitement present, as the reader does not get any glimpse of what that means to the character. To add more depth, a writer could add, ”She thinks it is the best job she has ever had and has dreamed about it her whole life.” This retains some formal narrator language but presents more insight into the character.

How to Improve Diction

It is clear that diction in writing can greatly impact a work’s tone and point of view, so the next important question is: how to improve diction? There are several great strategies to implement, including:

  1. Eliminate confusing words like homophones.
  2. Use interesting words.
  3. Use good tone words.
  4. Use words that are specific and descriptive.

Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings. If it is necessary to use them, it is important to make sure they are being used correctly. For example, the three words ”two,” ”too,” and ”to” very often get mixed up. A sentence that uses them correctly could be ”Two boys walked to school and they walked home, too.”

Interesting words can help the reader to better connect with work. For example, the word ”furious” is much more interesting than ”very angry.”

Similarly, using good tone words can also help to draw the reader in. When writing a light-hearted tone, something like ”the robot’s primary job was to make fun of bad movies” is much more approachable than a sentence filled with serious, academic vocabulary like ”the robot’s fundamental occupation was to engage in raillery regarding subpar films.”

Additionally, words that are specific and descriptive can help to paint a better picture in the reader’s mind. Saying that ”the air is windy” might draw up an image of a windy day in the reader’s head, but saying ”leaves rustled in the wind and fell softly to the ground” conjures up a much more specific and vivid picture to the reader. A sentence like ”Denny loved certain funny jokes” could also be improved by using more specific, interesting language like ”Denny loved funny stand-up jokes.”

Lesson Summary

Diction is the specific word choices that a writer uses to affect many things, such as a reader’s connotations, tone, and point-of-view. A connotation is how a word might make the reader feel, as well its connection to other words they might think of. Diction can also change the tone of a work, such as how ”the robot’s primary job was to make fun of bad movies” is more of a light tone, whereas ”the robot’s fundamental occupation was to engage in raillery regarding subpar films” is more academic and serious in tone. There are several types of diction a writer can use, including formal, informal, colloquial, slang, pedantic, abstract, concrete, and poetic.

Some great ways to improve diction are to eliminate confusing words, use interesting words, use good tone words, and use specific and descriptive words. Writers can eliminate confusing words like homophones or double-check that they are using them correctly, such as in the sentence ”Two boys walked to school and they walked home, too.” Additionally, using interesting words and more specific words are also a great way to improve diction, such as how incorporating the category ”stand-up” in the sentence ”Denny loved funny stand-up jokes” helps to deliver specific information to the reader.

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