Diction and Style

Every writer has his/her own style, and good editors know how to enhance that style. After all, that’s one of an editor’s main jobs.

What is style? It’s how a writer expresses himself/herself on the page. One factor contributing to style is diction—word choice.

The words a writer chooses contribute not only to his/her literary style but also its tone. Some writers use a straightforward, unadorned style using everyday words while others use flowery language, big words, and lots of imagery. To determine whether these styles are appropriate, consider two things: audience and purpose.


When writing for the general reader, avoid multi-syllable Latinate words – English words that originated from Latin. Use common English words instead. If writing for a scientific or scholarly publication, use Latinate words because readers of those publications expect it.


Why are we writing our article, story, or book? Do we want to convey joy, anger, concern? Or something else. Choose words that convey our purpose and meaning. Let’s look at the first paragraph of an article I wrote for “HiCall,” an Assemblies of God publication.

Inheriting the Promises of God

The moon beamed her pale silver light over us as we slowly waded in shallow gulf waters. An occasional seagull flew overhead, laughing at our plight. Sometimes we felt the gentle bumps of needlefish as they followed my father’s floundering light. Crabs scurried along the sandy bottom as we approached them. We began to tire, and it seemed we had walked for hours….


My Audience: Teenaged boys, so I chose a subject that would appeal to them—floundering with my father.

My Tone: A sense of pleasantness and relaxation while on a vacation. I hope you felt it.

Diction: Happy and pleasant details/words—the moon beaming, seagulls laughing, gentle bumps.

Inheriting the Promises of God

Frustrated Tone

The moon sneaked behind forbidding clouds as we waded aimlessly in shallow gulf waters. A seagull’s cackle mocked us. Needlefish rammed our legs—stupid fish! Crabs fled every direction along the sandy bottom. After all the pitiful hours my father and I trudged, we were exhausted. Where were the flounders?


In this revision, I used negative words such as sneaked, forbidding, aimlessly, mocked, rammed. stupid, pitiful, trudged and exhausted. I also ended with a question, which highlighted my frustration. I hope you see the difference..

Photo Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research

Choose your words carefully when you write. Oh, by the way, my father and I ended up with lots of flounders before the night was over.

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