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Why Use Precise Language?

Precise Language or Extensive Vocabulary?

Many memoir writers are under the impression that you need to have an extensive vocabulary to write. An extensive vocabulary can only help you—if by “extensive” you mean many precise words, not just big ones.

Precise words are specific and not vague and ineffective like nice, awful, big, OK. “She was nice” is vague. “She understood different points of view” is specific and precise language.

“He was awfully big” is vague. You might write instead: “My father measured six foot five and weighed 275 pounds.”

Don’t write: “The job was OK.” Write: “The job was in my field of competence, but its salary was inadequate and its requirements did not challenge me.”

In each of these examples, I have added meaning where I replaced vague words with precise language, but I did not use big words. “She was nice” does not qualify how she was nice or what I understand nice to mean as opposed to what the reader might understand nice to mean.

During the Editing Stage

Go over your text. Look at individual words. Does each of your words carry full weight or do you have flabby words like nice and awful. If you do, replace them with specific (not necessarily big) words and phrases that contribute precisely to your meaning.

When writers make use of vague or flabby words and phrases instead of precise language, they have not taken the time to explore the depth and breadth of what they are writing about. Like cliches and stereotypes, flabby words and phrases are lazy forms of writing. They communicate very little—when you need so very much to communicate all you have lived!

Precise language always improves a memoir!

Remember: replace all flabby words or phrases with others that convey precise and full meaning. You will not be there to notice the confusion appear on your reader’s face as she struggles to understand your text. You will not be there to say, “What I really mean is…”

Make each word work for you!

Good luck with your writing and remember to stay in the memoir conversation.


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