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How Word Choice and Language Set the Tone of Your Essay

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Doresa Jennings

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

The word choice and the language of an essay play a key role in setting the tone of the essay and letting readers know exactly what is meant to be said. Learn how using different words can change the tone of sentences and help readers to know how the message is intended to be communicated by the author. Updated: 04/09/2023

How Words and Language Convey a Message

When it comes to writing, there is only so much that punctuation, like exclamation points and questions marks, can do to set the tone. It becomes the actual words we use that let people know exactly what we mean. There are also times when you have to convey a message beyond mere words to the reader. There are certain tools that we can use to bring our voice to the piece as well. First, let's look at two different approaches to an argumentative topic and focus on the language choices.

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Word Choice

The following two opening paragraphs are for a prompt on whether testing should be allowed on animals. First, notice what is NOT said. There is no use of ''in my opinion,'' ''I think,'' or ''I will show that…''. These phrases weaken voice and are not necessary. Other ''dead weight'' phrases that should not be used are ''the reason for this is,'' ''for the fact that,'' and other heavy phrases that weigh down the writing.

So, first, let's look at the position of supporting animal testing:

''In the past few decades, researchers have made tremendous gains in finding treatments for serious diseases. By studying immune systems and reactions to drugs on animals, scientists have successfully contributed to saving many lives. Therefore, animal testing should continue to be used for medical advancements and research.''

What word choices strengthen this writer's position for making their argument? Look for emotionally charged language first, such as ''serious'' and ''saving.'' Then, notice the influential positive words, such as ''tremendous,'' ''successfully,'' ''contributed,'' and ''advancements.'' These word choices are not only persuasive, they are well chosen formal language. Imagine if the writer used less vivid, impactful word choices such as ''Animal testing is used in medical research and researchers have found treatments for sick people. So, animal testing should be allowed.''

Not nearly as effective, is it?

Now, let's look at the opposing argument's opening paragraph and focus on those word choices.

''Imagine having painful chemicals poured into your eyes. You can't blink because your eyelids were cut off, and you can't wipe them because your head is trapped in a cage. That is only one horrid example of how beauty manufacturers use animal testing in order to market their products as ''safe to use.'' Testing on animals needs to be outlawed because many animals are seriously harmed or killed as a result of experiments and testing.''

It is not difficult to identify ''painful,'' ''trapped,'' ''horrid,'' and ''seriously harmed or killed'' as effective word choices for achieving the emotions needed to argue against animal testing. Notice the use of verbal irony in the words ''beauty'' (instead of cosmetics) and ''safe-to-use.'' Even the carefully chosen word ''outlawed'' has a stronger connotation (emotional meaning) than the phrase ''made illegal.''

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