It has been two and a half years since I wrote my Not Mere Words post where I explored nuances of meaning in word choice. Since that time, a number of readers have questioned whether word choice can really mean that big of a difference. When it comes to technical documentation, nuance is incredibly important. In fact, the reason you see so much jargon in technical documentation is to ensure clarity of meaning. Yes, you must learn what the jargon means, but the jargon usually has just one meaning, which means the use of that term is clearer than using other words to convey the same thought.
However, words also have a certain power of their own. What you say and when you say it have social implications that extend to books and to the pieces you write. Masters of fiction writing use specific terms to convey a character’s feelings, outlook on life, or point of origin. Technical writers often use specific terms to add emotional impact to what would otherwise be a relatively dry form of writing. So, it was with great interest that I recently read 19 Words That Will Make People Like You More. The article simply affirmed what I already knew—that saying things like “You’re welcome!” rather than an alternative (such as “No problem”) have significant meaning to those that hear them.
The words you choose both in personal conversation and in writing reflect who you are as a person. A discerning person can tell a lot about you just by the words you choose and how you use them. More importantly, the terms you use can affect you as a person. Saying “I can”, even when you’re certain that it’s more accurate to say “I can’t”, could actually change the situation from one of failure to one of success. Another interesting article on word choice is 10 Words That Can Make You More Powerful.
As always, the reason you use specific words is to affect those around you. Knowing that you can perform a task isn’t the problem, getting someone else to realize it is. Likewise, generating interest in a topic that is dear to you (and nearly unknown to everyone else) requires careful use of terms. Body language doesn’t translate through to writing, so word choice becomes your only tool for changing the opinion of others so that they see your point-of-view.
All this leads to the same conclusion that I made in my Not Mere Words post. In order to be successful in helping others see your perspective in person and in writing, you need to have a wide variety of words at your fingertips and understand the nuance of those words. It’s not just shades of meaning, but also how those words affect those who hear them. Power words are actually just ordinary words used in a specific manner. Let me know your thoughts about word selection at [email protected].