Vocabulary: The Choice of Words

The prior article in this newsletter dealt with Syntax, the arrangement of words into phrases and sentences. This article is aboutVocabulary. The choice of words is very important in writing easy to read documents that convey the right meaning.

Simple Words
Use short, simple words that are understandable to the reader. For example, use “orient” instead of “orientate”. Use “finish” instead of “finalize”.Consistent Usage
Use words consistently. Once you’ve referred to something by a particular name, keep referring to it in that same way.
Wrong Meaning
Since the document may be read aloud as verbal instructions to someone, avoid verbs that sound alike, but have different meanings. Decreasesounds too similar to Increase; use Reduce instead.Vague Words
Avoid vague words as in, “slowly drain the tank”. Instead say, “drain the tank at a rate no greater than 100 gallons per minute”.
Abbreviations
An abbreviation is a shortened form of a written word. For example, “amt” is an abbreviation for “amount”. If the reader will not understand the shortened form of the word, spell them out or don’t use them.

Acronyms
An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of name, such as, IBM for International Business Machines. An acronym can also be formed from parts of a series of words. For example, RADAR for RAdio Detecting and Ranging. The first use of an acronym should be explained: International Business Machines (IBM).

Future newsletters will include articles on the dealing with details, expressing numbers, formatting documents, emphasizing text, organizing information, displaying criteria, including lists, and writing alerts (warnings and cautions).

If you are interested in taking a course of how to write effective documents, see our Quality System Documentation course description.