What words should I use in an essay?

When writing an essay, choosing the right words is crucial. The words you use can make the difference between conveying your meaning clearly and leaving your reader confused. So what words should you use in an essay to ensure you communicate effectively?


In conclusion, word choice is a vital part of essay writing. By using precise, thoughtful language and avoiding slang, repetition, and ambiguity, you can craft an essay that clearly communicates your ideas and arguments. Carefully consider the words you use, check a dictionary or thesaurus if unsure of a word’s meaning or connotations, and take time to review and edit your word choices. With practice and care, you can develop strong essay writing skills that allow you to articulate your thoughts with clarity and impact.

Use precise, meaningful words

Using words precisely is key. Make sure you fully understand the meaning of a word before you use it. Using words you don’t fully understand can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Choose words that exactly capture your intended meaning – don’t just reach for a long word to try to sound scholarly. But avoid simply relying on basic vocabulary either – expand and vary your word choice appropriately. Also be careful with homonyms (words that sound the same but have different meanings, like “there” and “their”), which can undermine your point if misused.

Avoid slang, cliches and filler words

Slang, cliches and filler words like “basically” or “you know” are usually inappropriate for academic writing. Slang is too informal, while cliches and fillers suggest laziness and imprecise thinking. Relied on too heavily, they undermine your essay’s clarity and logic. While you may use them occasionally for emphasis or to vary your style, avoid overuse. Instead, strive for original expressions and precise descriptions of your points.

Beware of repetition

Repeatedly using the same words or phrases can make your essay monotonous to read. Vary your vocabulary and sentence structure to add interest. Use synonyms, related words and parallel constructions to present your ideas in diverse ways. Repetition can occasionally be used deliberately to emphasize a point. But make sure repetition remains strategic, not a default habit.

Avoid ambiguity

Ambiguity arises when a word or phrase could have multiple meanings in the context of your essay. Even if your intended meaning is clear to you, ambiguous language leaves room for misinterpretation by your reader. Reread drafts closely to catch any ambiguities and clarify language that could be taken differently than you intend.

Use active voice

Active voice makes your writing direct, lively and engaging. It adds impact by emphasizing the person or thing performing the action in a sentence, rather than the action itself. For example, “the candidate argued that…” is in active voice. Passive voice less immediately conveys who is acting: “it was argued by the candidate that…” Use active voice as much as possible.

Vary sentence structure

Varying your sentence structure adds flow and rhythm to your essay writing. Using only short, simple sentences can sound choppy. While long complex sentences can get unwieldy. Strive for balance, combining short and long sentences. Begin some with the main subject, while varying others to start with a dependent clause or phrase instead. Varying structure avoids monotony while clarifying logical relationships between ideas.

Use descriptive words

Descriptive words add color and specificity to your writing. They engage the reader’s imagination, helping build understanding of concepts that may be unfamiliar to them. For example, “confusing” is a bland descriptor, while “convoluted” better conveys the meaning. Seek precise verbs, adjectives and adverbs to make your points vividly. Just be sure use of descriptive words rings true, rather than seeming exaggerated or overblown.

Check definitions

If you’re ever unsure of a word’s exact definition or connotations, check before using it. Looking words up in a dictionary ensures you understand their meaning. This allows you to decide if they fit what you want to convey. A thesaurus can offer alternatives if you want to expand or change a word’s meaning. Avoid choosing words based just on how intellectual or sophisticated they sound.

Review for consistency

Carefully reread your drafts to check consistency of word choice. Look for any contradictory usages, like using a word in two different ways. Also ensure you sustain formal diction – you don’t want some sections overly casual while others are very technical. Aim to use words accurately and precisely throughout.

Edit for precision

Editing lets you polish word choice prudently. Substitute generalized language with more precise descriptions. Remove redundant phrases that state the same thing in multiple ways. Eliminate any rambling or flowery language that distracts from the core point. Refine and sharpen word choices carefully to craft clear, concise sentences.

Develop your vocabulary

Improving your vocabulary will give you more words to draw from when writing. Read challenging material that exposes you to more sophisticated words in use. Note any well-turned phrases or brilliant descriptions you want to remember. Try integrating some new vocabulary into your everyday speech too. With time, these words will become a natural part of your lexicon.

Use a style guide

Style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook detail proper usage and punctuation for different types of writing. Keeping a style guide on hand helps ensure you use words correctly. Guides offer guidance on tricky distinctions between similar words like “affect” and “effect.” Consult them any time you’re unsure of a word’s proper use.

Read examples

Study essays and articles you find well-written and engaging. Note how the writer uses language to convey their points. Observe how they introduction and elaborate on concepts, transition between paragraphs, offer evidence to back claims. Analyze their diction, tone, imagery and syntax. Reading strong writing samples shows effective word choices in action.

Focus your topic

The more narrowly you focus the topic of your essay, the more targeted your word choices can be. Trying to broadly address a sprawling subject leaves you vague language that fails to convey key details. But a tightly defined topic area means you can use precise terminology familiar to that field. Know your subject’s parameters to make informed vocabulary decisions.

Match tone to audience

Consider who will be reading your essay to help guide appropriate word choices and tone. An academic paper for professors calls for more elevated diction than an opinion piece aimed at a general readership. Know your audience and choose words suited to their expectations. Seek feedback to ensure your tone matches readers’ needs.

Avoid offensive language

Some words have hateful connotations or are deemed insensitive that make them unsuitable for academic writing. Do thorough research on words related to identity, race, gender, or sexual orientation to avoid unwitting offensiveness. Err on the side of caution – if you have any doubt about a word being appropriate, don’t use it.

Use words to convey personality

While formal writing has conventions, there is still room to convey your own style and personality. An essay written entirely in detached, technical language can come across dry. Choose instances to use words creatively yet precisely to add voice to your work. An apposite metaphor or colorful adjective can help make writing memorable.

Avoid nominalizations

Nominalizations are verbs turned into nouns, like “the consideration of ideas” rather than “considering ideas.” Overuse of nominalizations leads to stilted, abstract language. Prefer active voice verbs to get directly to the action. Nominalizations have their purpose but don’t over-rely on them.

Use words economically

Verbosity adds bulk without substance. Avoid elaborate, wordy expressions when simpler phrasing gets the job done. For example, “the methodology utilized was” versus “I used.” Cut redundant adjectives and adverbs that don’t add new meaning. Prune out unnecessary words to tighten your writing.

Choose words with appropriate register

Register refers to vocabulary suitability for setting and audience. In formal writing, use elevated diction fitting scholarly context. In casual writing, relaxed wording resonates best. Be aware of connotations too – some terms carry offensive or vulgar meanings despite seeming innocuous. Choose register bringing out your intended tone.

Word Formal Register Casual Register
Very good Excellent Awesome
A lot Substantial Tons
Bad Unacceptable Crappy

Use words suitable for genre

Some genres like newspaper articles or lab reports have field-specific terminology. Research the genre you’re writing in to see typical vocabulary. While you don’t need jargon overload, using some keywords and conventions establishes credibility. Make sure word choices align with readers’ expectations.

Don’t rely on spellcheck

Spellcheck is useful, but don’t assume correctly spelled words are right for your writing. Homonyms in particular confuse spellcheck. And overly complex or imprecise language may slip through if spelled correctly. Manual editing beats over-reliance on technology. Read each sentence closely to ensure every word pulls its weight.

Define unfamiliar terms

When specialized vocabulary is unavoidable, clearly define such terms so readers understand you. Some technical terms may be familiar to academics you’re writing for but not general public. Don’t assume readers share your knowledge. Take time to explain important terminology using clear, plain language.

Use words to transition

Transition words like “however” and “moreover” establish relationships between your ideas. They add flow by linking one statement logically to the next. Sprinkle transition words throughout your essay to help readers follow the thread. They lead the reader along in comprehending your arguments.

Quote sources judiciously

Quotations from expert sources lend credibility to your writing. But block quotes used excessively suggest you can’t paraphrase well. Quote just key phrases or sentences where experts’ words are the point. Balance source quotes with your own voice and analysis. Over-quoting hampers flow.

Check for errors

Proofread carefully to catch typos, spelling mistakes and repeated words. Read essays aloud to spot clumsy phrasing or missing words. Have a peer review for a second opinion on areas that are unclear. Clean up errors that make you stumble or pause. Smooth writing lets words shine.

Trust your ear

If word choice leaves you fumbling or sounds awkward, change it. Your ear picks up on clumsy language even if you can’t pinpoint what’s wrong. Don’t force phrasing that seems cluttered or convoluted. Go with words that flow smoothly to create natural rhythm.

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