Effective Use of Language The Importance of Language

Precise and Clear Language

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Precise and Clear Language

The use of appropriate language is a tricky matter because the meaning of words is relative and situational. In other words, words can be interpreted in different ways by different people in different situations. For this reason, it is important to choose language which is as precise and clear as possible. The more precise and clear one's use of language becomes, the fewer the number of possible interpretations for a message. Consider the following words. What numerical value would you assign to each of them? If something is "probable what percentage of the time does it occur? P>

(1) probable
(2) doubtful
(3) certainly
(4) unlikely
(5) perhaps

Would other people assign the same value to these words as you did? In actuality, the range of values varies greatly because these terms are relative: they can mean different things to different people in different situations. How could one be more precise in his/her use of these terms?

Consider the examples below. Notice that these terms can vary widely in the meaning to different people. The best way to use such relative terms, then, is to compare them to something concrete and "known" to the reader. For example: "Is that Acura an expensive car?" is best answered with a comparison: "Compared to that Honda, the Acura is expensive. Compared to that Lexus, it is inexpensive."



Consider the following examples. Note the potential confusion or ambiguity in these phrases. 

(1) Why the student body should continue in this state of apathy is not really understandable.
(2) Our student body is dull and slack-minded.
(3) The practice and theory of politics are studied in the classroom but political habits on campus do not seem to benefit from such labor.
(4) He's an interesting individual.
(5) It is difficult to estimate the number of people affected by AIDS.

Each of the following are actual headlines printed in newspapers. Notice their double meaning.

(1) Include your children when Baking Cookies
(2) Safety Experts Say School Buss Passengers should be Belted
(3) Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board
(4) Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in Ten Years
(5) Eye Drops Off Shelf

In short, it is wise to think carefully about your choice of words and their potential interpretations. To communicate effectively, precise and clear language is essential.

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