Hierarchy of Words: The Art of Word Choice

Graphic display of better words to use in your writing.Writing is composed of sections and paragraphs.  And, each paragraph is composed of sentences, and each sentence is composed of words.  If you zoom your microscope any further, you would uncover letters and phonemes.  Zoom back out, however, to the words.  These are the playthings of poets.  The tools of the word tinkerers.  It’s what writers use, and I argue there is an art form to word choice.

Some words, however, are better than others for your immediate writing needs.  Your current writing situation/problem may require one word, and  may simultaneously render another word inappropriate.  There are other situations where you will struggle for shades of success to find the right word, and the strides that you take are made by your choices of words.

Some words will get you closer to your intended meaning.  Other words will push you further away.  This is where I apply my Hierarchy of Words.

The Hierarchy of Words

Not all words are created equal.  The standard (values) by which you judge the words, however, makes the difference.  I qualify my hierarchy of words from two values: interest, and precision.

The more interesting and precise that a word can function in a specific sentence, the higher the word ranks on my personal hierarchy of words.

For example, when composing the above sentence, my first iteration had the sentence reading something like: “The more interesting and precise that a word can be in a specific situation . . . .”  In that sentence, the core word is “be”–a low-level word on my hierarchy of words.

“Be” is a conjugation of the verb To Be–one of the true work words of many languages.  In English, To Be is the silicon caulking that fills the gaps that occur naturally in sentences.  It is short, and uninteresting.  It is abstract.  Shakespeare may have made it famous, but it is not a great word in my book (though it is very useful).

In that very sentence above, I substituted a few words to make the sentence more interesting and more precise.  In short, I chose words that were higher on my hierarchy of words.

The new sentence reads, “The more interesting and precise that a word can function in a specific sentence, the higher the word ranks on my personal hierarchy of words.”  If I were to revise things even further, it would read, “The more interesting that a word functions in a specific . . . .”  In this case, I discarded “can” and conjugated function appropriately–“functions” is more interesting and precise than “can function.

The Challenge

I challenge you to investigate your word choice and eradicate low-level helping verbs, junk words, and discover precise and interesting words to replace them.  It will improve the overall quality of your sentences, and subsequently, your paragraphs, papers, blog posts, business correspondences, novels, and your writing.


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