Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

How Words and Language Convey a Message

When it comes to writing, there is only so much that punctuation, like exclamation points and questions marks, can do to set the tone. It becomes the actual words we use that let people know exactly what we mean. There are also times when you have to convey a message beyond mere words to the reader. There are certain tools that we can use to bring our voice to the piece as well. First, let’s look at two different approaches to an argumentative topic and focus on the language choices.

Word Choice

The following two opening paragraphs are for a prompt on whether testing should be allowed on animals. First, notice what is NOT said. There is no use of ”in my opinion,” ”I think,” or ”I will show that…”. These phrases weaken voice and are not necessary. Other ”dead weight” phrases that should not be used are ”the reason for this is,” ”for the fact that,” and other heavy phrases that weigh down the writing.

So, first, let’s look at the position of supporting animal testing:

”In the past few decades, researchers have made tremendous gains in finding treatments for serious diseases. By studying immune systems and reactions to drugs on animals, scientists have successfully contributed to saving many lives. Therefore, animal testing should continue to be used for medical advancements and research.”

What word choices strengthen this writer’s position for making their argument? Look for emotionally charged language first, such as ”serious” and ”saving.” Then, notice the influential positive words, such as ”tremendous,” ”successfully,” ”contributed,” and ”advancements.” These word choices are not only persuasive, they are well chosen formal language. Imagine if the writer used less vivid, impactful word choices such as ”Animal testing is used in medical research and researchers have found treatments for sick people. So, animal testing should be allowed.”

Not nearly as effective, is it?

Now, let’s look at the opposing argument’s opening paragraph and focus on those word choices.

”Imagine having painful chemicals poured into your eyes. You can’t blink because your eyelids were cut off, and you can’t wipe them because your head is trapped in a cage. That is only one horrid example of how beauty manufacturers use animal testing in order to market their products as ”safe to use.” Testing on animals needs to be outlawed because many animals are seriously harmed or killed as a result of experiments and testing.”

It is not difficult to identify ”painful,” ”trapped,” ”horrid,” and ”seriously harmed or killed” as effective word choices for achieving the emotions needed to argue against animal testing. Notice the use of verbal irony in the words ”beauty” (instead of cosmetics) and ”safe-to-use.” Even the carefully chosen word ”outlawed” has a stronger connotation (emotional meaning) than the phrase ”made illegal.”


When writing academic essays, the language choices should fit the purpose of the essay. As seen above, the writers want to argue and, therefore, persuade their readers to agree with their position, so the language is formal but also biased in connotative meanings, which is a language technique in persuasive writing.

If you were to write an expository essay on agricultural history, emotionally charged language isn’t necessary, but formal, precise language is still needed. For example, you wouldn’t refer to irrigation as something vague like watering. If your essay is meant to explain the advancement of technology in agriculture, then using words like ”made a powerful impact on sufficiently reducing time” vs ”helped save time” make a considerable difference.

Choosing vivid verbs, and adding adverbs and adjectives are language choices that strengthen the writer’s voice. Avoiding slang is just as important as it erases the professionalism of the essay by creating an informal, casual voice. Finally, avoid using ”assignment” language, such as ”This essay will show…”

Lesson Summary

To conclude, word choice and language allow us to set the tone for our essay. We go beyond words to allow the reader to also understand the mood and emotions we are trying to convey in our writing. When writing, we don’t have the advantage of facial expression, volume and body language to enhance the reader’s understanding of exactly how to read our words. So, without these things, we must use the tools that we have. This includes:

  • The words that we use
  • The breadth or depth we go through to make our point
  • The words we use to proceed or follow main statements

Using these tools, we move beyond simple words on a page and allow for our voice, feelings and mood to be added to the piece as well. It brings us, and the reader, that much closer together with our original intent for the piece.

Join the conversation