How To Edit A Document For Diction

Diction is the medium in which everyone communicates by speech and in writing. Use appropriate language in professional business documents.

When editing a document for your company's use, whether a letter, report, or presentation, be on the lookout for correct and incorrect diction usage. There are three types of standard diction in American English: formal, informal, and slang. You probably can envision what each of these is like and how they differ from one another. For most business documents, informal diction is the norm. Here are a few tips for editing a document to make sure it uses correct informal diction style:

1. Read the document through for comprehension. Is it clear and easy to understand? If not, there may be diction issues that need to be addressed. Circle any words in a print draft that appear unclear or awkward. Then look for substitutes that will help the document read more smoothly. Avoid the overuse of jargon, or specialized terms, which can be confusing to readers who are not actively involved in the field.

2. Check for agreement. Avoid using a single gender term ("he" or "she") exclusively through the document. Mix them, using one first and then the other. Or offer a note to the reader explaining that you wish to use one gender pronoun reference exclusively to avoid confusing the reader. Make sure the subject and verb match, or agree, in number and gender:



Not this:

The two dogs licked its paws.

But this:

The two dogs licked their paws.

Not this:

One should return their library books on time.

But this:

One should return his or her library books on time.

Also check for verb tense consistency. If you start with the past tense, stay with it rather than jumping around unless the document covers more than one time period: past, present, future.

3. Avoid sexist language. This may be terms, expressions, or references that favor one gender over the other or denigrates one or the other. An example would be using only male pronouns for the unknown referent:

Not this:

When changing a baby's diaper, be sure to apply ointment to any rash he may have.

But this:

When changing a baby's diaper, be sure to apply ointment to any rash.

Do not make stereotypical statements related to gender:

Not this:

Don't you just love Mother Nature?

But this:

Don't you just love nature?

Not this:

Did the airline stewardess come by yet?

But this:

Did the airline flight attendant come by yet?

4. Don't use excessive euphemism or trite expressions, which can appear silly or simplistic:

Not this:

I have to use the little girl's room.

But this:

I have to use the restroom.

Not this:

She's as pretty as a picture.

But this:

She's an attractive girl.

5. Use concrete nouns and action verbs to make your language more meaningful:

Not this:

Many people saw the accident.

But this:

About ten bar customers witnessed the accident.

Not this:

Betty is a good friend.

But this:

Betty stays in touch and is there when I need to talk.

Language is a powerful tool when you make it work for you by exploring its many nuances and uses. Make your work-related writing more effective by strengthening your use of informal diction.

© High Speed Ventures 2011