Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Power of Word Choice

Word choice isn't just for English majors - but it is often overlooked by job seekers and resume writers alike.

Word choice is the art of selecting the right word for the right use. Clear communications naturally emerge when we use the best word to express what we are trying to say.

When we fail to use the right word, our verbal and written communications cloud the issue at hand and make misundertandings more likely. Poor word choice can lead to:

  • Vague sentences
  • Imprecise quantifers
  • Incorrect assumptions
  • Inaccurate statements
  • Reduced impact
  • Boring repetition
  • Failure to communicate

One of the mistakes I often see in resumes - including those designed by certified professionals - is the failure to pay attention to word selection. This failure reveals itself in resumes, letters, and interview responses as:

  • Using a similar-sounding word inappropriately. For example, have you ever known anyone who said pacific when what they actually meant was specific?
  • Repeating power verbs in unimaginative ways. With thousands upon thousands of words at our disposal, there is absolutely no reason to use the same action verbs over and over to start sentences and bulleted statements.
  • Using vague quantifiers. Quantifiers such as many, some, varied, and several, to mention but a few, have been weakened by consistent overuse.
  • Selecting weak action verbs. Action verbs aren't all created equal. Using a word with less punch (like improved) communicates less than a stronger verb (like strengthened).

So, what can you do to bolster your word selection skills?

  • Buy a word-a-day calendar or subscribe to a word-a-day RSS service (many are free) to stretch your vocabulary in new directions.
  • If you wish to emphasize a skill in a document or an interview response, use synonyms to communicate without repetition.
  • Don't rely on spell checkers to ensure good grammar. The word pacific may be spelled right, but if you use it in place of specific, that usage will still be wrong - and embarass you.
  • When you find that you have already used an action verb in your resume or letter use a thesaurus to find an alternative selection.
  • Rather than rely on vague quantifiers, get specific. How many? If the number isn't impressive, describe what you did in other more meaningful ways. If the number is impressive but you don't want to be explicit, then try something like more than $10 million.

With the continuing rise of digital communications (pagers, cell phones, chat, email, web, blogs), verbal and written communications are decaying rapidly. You can easily set yourself apart from other candidates by taking a little time and energy to boost your vocabulary and word choice.

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