University North Central Writing Center Handout
Levels of Diction
In writing a typical essay, you will wish to use
neither extremely elevated language nor extremely casual or colloquial language.
You will want to strive for a middle
level of diction.
MIDDLE DICTION: Arnold is a strange person; he lives in a very rundown apartment. To look at it one would think he was too poor to buy a broken toilet. He certainly does some odd things. His wife told me he had not been to sleep since Saturday. I doubt he is working; he never works. He must be just loafing.
CASUAL DICTION: That weirdo Arnold lives in a real dump. You’d think he didn’t have enough bills to buy a busted flush from the way his pad looks. That guy’s a real turkey, y’know? His old lady was telling me he hadn’t hit the sack since Saturday. Can’t be that he’s workin’; that bozo never works. He must be just skatin’ on through.
ELEVATED DICTION: That Arnold is a singular fellow, actually. His domicile is a positively deplorable abode rather akin to a sty. Its appearance gives rise to the speculation that Arnold possesses insufficient monies to purchase even a non-functional disposal apparatus. He performs a number of indisputably unusual activities. His helpmate informed me that Arnold had not sought the sweet respite of slumber for half a fortnight. Assuredly he cannot be indulging in laborious pursuit; he has never stooped to such common practice. He must simply be luxuriating in idleness.
You will wish to aim for a middle level of diction
that is appropriate for a wide audience. Most
popular, non-technical magazines are written at a middle level of diction,
neither too formal nor too casual. You
can familiarize yourself with this level of diction by reading popular magazines
like Time, Seventeen,
and Sports Illustrated.
Certain words also have connotations of formality and informality. Arrange these words according to their levels of diction:
individual, man, guy
communication, epistle, letter
lots, plenty, a great many
steal, rip-off, lift
awful long, extremely long, real long
pulchritudinous, nifty, attractive
child, kid, offspring
brainy, perspicacious, intelligent
discourse, talk, gab
hassle, quarrel, altercation
clothes, attire, threads
One of the main rules in choosing words for writing
is to make your words convey your idea clearly. Attempting to use INFLATED
LANGUAGE often results in more confusion that clarity.
Consider the effect of this rewrite on Hamlet’s soliloquy:
To be or the contrary? Whether the former or the latter be preferable would seem to admit of some difference of opinion, the answer in the present case being of an affirmative or a negative character according to whether one elects on the one hand to mentally suffer the disfavors of fortune, albeit than extreme degree, or on the other to boldly envisage adverse conditions…
Generally, clear, direct language is much better for
conveying your exact meaning to your reader.
Here are some examples of unnecessarily padded, inflated language.
How could the sentences be made more direct?
Rewrite each of the following sentences to eliminate the inflated language.
All the tears that inundated Lord Hugh were dry in the case of his son.
In any case, let us send you a case on approval.
Some believe that tea is bad for a person, but that is not the case.
In most parts of the United States, in only a few cases do archbishops
bear Italian names.
He was transported to his place of residence in an intoxicated condition.
Anything in the nature of noise upsets him.
At the present time we are studying the development of political parties.
Persons who run for political office spend many years in preparation for
In most cases the players performed below their usual standards.
The subject of his inquiry was the procedure of dealing with the
perpetrators of the crime.
11. At this point in time there is nothing anyone can do for him.
Students in their first year of college must make many adjustments to
Omit words that repeat, words that add nothing to your
message but words.
It goes without saying that we are acquainted with your policy on filing tax returns, and we have every intention of complying with the regulations that you have stated.
We intend to comply with the tax return regulations you have stated.
I would appreciate it if you would bring to the attention of your drafting officers the Administrator’s dislike of long sentences and paragraphs in messages to the field and in other items drafted for her signature of approval, as well as in all correspondence, re-ports, and studies. Please encourage your section to keep their sentences short.
Please encourage your drafting officers to keep sentences and paragraphs in letters, reports, and studies short. Dr. Lomas, the administrator, has mentioned reports and memos drafted for approval recently have been wordy and hence time consuming.
The Calumet Branch currently employs five tellers. These tellers do an excellent job Monday through Thursday but
The Calumet Branch employs five tellers who, except