Category Archives: Blog

Tips: Choosing the Best Words

Writing is all about choices—deciding what to communicate and how to communicate it. It’s about selecting ideas and deciding how best to express them. Decisions about words and sequencing—the order that a writer presents ideas in a piece—are also important. The most important factor to consider when making these decisions is audience (the topic of an earlier post). As a professional who regularly writes for a broad variety of audiences—from scientists and parliamentarians to commuters and foreign investors—here are a few tips on choosing appropriate words.

Audience’s vocabulary level
Based on your research, make an educated guess about the audience’s language level. The more educated they are, the more likely they are to appreciate the nuances of vocabulary. Words such as continuous and continual are not synonyms, for instance, while relatively similar terms such accurate, precise and exact are best used in particular circumstances or when paired with specific words. When writing for the general public, avoid words not used in everyday conversation—if it doesn’t roll off the tongue, replace it.

Creativity level
Some projects, such as ads, naming exercises and multi-media scripts, call for more creativity than others. Delivering the kind of creativity that appeals to a particular audience requires knowing a lot about the audience—how old they are, where and how they live. Each noun, adjective and adverb has at least two or three other words (or expressions) with similar meanings. Choose the one most likely to resonate with the audience.

Use a thesaurus
A thesaurus is the diligent writer’s best friend; Oxford remains the standard, although there are more and more decent online options. When you look up a word, rank options according to levels of vocabulary, formality and positivity. Choose the one best suited to the audience and piece.

The unexpected word
This tip’s from a former mentor, who showed me the power of choosing an unusual word to convey a deeper level of meaning, draw in an audience, or inject a bit of humour. It’s a technique that must be used sparingly for best effect. To get an idea of the effect, replace “sparingly” with “daintily” in the previous sentence.

Know thy genre
Each genre (website, speech, report) has its own conventions. To put it another way, the audience has specific expectations for each genre and the writer’s job is to meet these expectations. What works in a speech won’t necessarily work in a brochure, print ad or annual report.

Recognize that a writer’s intelligence is on display with each sentence and that the best way to engage readers is to consistently make smart choices.

Do you have tips on how to choose the right words? Post up!
Image courtesy of sulphakit73/

Tunes: My Celtic Journey

Celtic music had never been part of my universe, despite the fact that both of my parents hail from Nova Scotia and Dad’s from Cape Breton, the land of fiddlers and ceilidhs. This changed for the better in 2010, when I joined the Sarah Burnell Band. I had brought my guitar and mandolin along onContinue Reading

Top Five Writing Tips

I switched to freelance writing after leaving the television industry nearly 15 years ago. I began at Stiff Sentences, a company that emphasized collaboration and a commitment to the craft of writing—that focused effort makes us better writers. I continue to apply and refine the tips that I learned and shared there. 1. Never stareContinue Reading

Tunes: Keith Richards’ 1979 Concert for the Blind

In 1977, police arrested Rolling Stones Keith Richards for possession of heroin during the band’s stop in Toronto. He was eventually sentenced to play two charity concerts—fundraisers for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind—in Oshawa in 1979. The tickets went on sale toward the end of my first year at Ryerson. I drained myContinue Reading

Tales: Politics and Media—Perennial Dance Partners

Brian Mulroney’s cunning attempt to conclude a deal on Canada’s constitution provided a backdrop for one of the most telling moments of my career in the news media. For me, it perfectly illustrates the co-dependent relationship between the media and public figures. In 1990, I was a reporter-editor with Sunday Edition, the hour-long weekly newsmagazineContinue Reading

Five Speechwriting Tips

Although I write in all promotional genres (articles, websites, reports, multimedia scripts, etc.), I have had particular success with speeches. A unique and unusual genre, speeches can be great fun to write. Here are a five tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way: 1. Speeches are all about persuasion. The goal isContinue Reading

Tales: A Funny Moment at Canada AM

Live television news, like any real-time performance, is imbued with excitement and tension because unusual events occasionally occur: a microphone or light fails, a host stumbles or says something unexpected or controversial. Live bloopers can be hilarious and I played a direct role in a memorable one. My odyssey through television news and current affairsContinue ReadingContinue Reading

Tunes: We’re not in Detroit anymore

My sojourn at Ryerson in Toronto was an incredibly exciting time: along with the sense of unbridled freedom and self-expression, there was a world of new foods, cultures, music and friends. I hung out a lot with a guy in the same program from my high school; we hadn’t been close at home, but weContinue ReadingContinue Reading

Tips: It’s all about audience

Another way of saying “well written” is “strong connection between writer and reader.” Good writing, like any good communication, involves creating a link between sender and receiver. This is why I believe that the most important factor in any communication project is profound consideration of target audience. This means doing your homework: find out notContinue ReadingContinue Reading