Purposeful Word Choice—Formal or Informal, General or Specific

Different clip art photos of different styles of people.

Your style, like every writer’s style, is unique because of the word choices you make. Writing style is similar to clothing style. You choose what to wear depending on the occasion and your purpose. Formal or semiformal attire is appropriate for prom, whereas T-shirts and jeans are inappropriate for that setting. You must also think about your purpose when you write and revise. Is your purpose to inform or to entertain? Is it to persuade your audience to accept your point of view? Polishing your style means paying attention to diction as you revise. In this lesson, we will look at the degree of formality in your language and the specificity of your word choices.

Choice 1: Level of language or degree of formality 

To decide whether to use formal, semi-formal, or informal language in a piece of writing, read the description and purpose of each style:

Choice 2: General or specific language

Let’s practice a revision strategy for using specific language in your essays. Click on “Techniques for Writing: Using Specific Language.” Read the definitions for general and specific language. Study the example that moves from food in general to three specific types of lettuce. Then review Exercise A. Finally, read the information at the bottom of the page concerning topic sentences (which are often general) and supporting sentences (which are often more specific). Notice that the more specific sentence in the example was created by adding sensory details—appealing to the readers’ senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. You can use this technique in your own essays. When you have completed Exercise A, return to the lesson and move on to the next section.

Techniques for Writing: Using Specific Language