Competitive Communication: A Rhetoric for Modern Business

By Barry Eckhouse | Go to book overview

9
MANAGING ETHOS
Word Choice

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Writers who give special attention to their choice of words have an opportunity to provide their readers with the kind of writing that is both distinctive and engaging. It is also the kind of writing that will compete well for the reader's attention when the choices the writer makes result in increased familiarity, clarity, and ease of reading. Considered alone, word choice will contribute greatly to creating the kind of ethos the writer desires because the words one chooses communicate important information about intelligence, character, and goodwill. Combined with conciseness, careful word choice can produce writing that promises readers the most return in meaning for the least investment in time and effort.

Following conciseness with word choice makes particularly good sense: the writer who has determined which words to leave out must now decide what to do with the words that remain. This is a consideration separate from conciseness in both complexity and procedure since it involves replacing words instead of simply omitting them. Nevertheless, conciseness and word choice are causally related in editorial practice because engaging in the first almost always influences the necessity of choice in the second. For example, in the following sentence, the writer may choose different words for "matter" and "made."

To put this matter simply, projection to fiscal year-end is made on the following
assumptions:

The writer may choose instead to say:

To put this situation simply, projection to fiscal year-end is calculated according
to the following assumptions:

-147-

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