We all understand the link between vocabulary and writing. At its most basic, if you have a larger vocabulary, you can convey your ideas in a more precise and eloquent way. Knowing more words makes you a better writer, because you have access to a far greater wealth of options for expressing any one idea.
On the flip side, a limited vocabulary means you will struggle to convey those ideas effectively. That’s a problem in any situation. Whether you’re making a presentation to the CEO, helping a customer over the phone or completing a term paper, grasping at words will hamper your efforts.
If words don’t come to mind while you’re writing, chances are good you need to work on your vocabulary. Let’s explore what this means for your writing, in what areas you may need improvement, and the simple solution for improving your vocabulary today.
Vocabulary’s Influence on Writing
In addition to writing, vocabulary also influences reading. You have probably heard of the link between vocabulary and reading, and understand why knowing words helps you process and understand text. The more words you know, the less stumbling and searching you have to do during the reading process.
Arguably, though, possessing a solid vocabulary is even more important to writing. As Shawna Brynildssen points out,
“Once students have learned to decode words, they may be able to read and pronounce many words that are unfamiliar to them. They may even be able to determine accurate meanings of unfamiliar words simply by examining the context in which those words are used.”
Not so much with writing, however, because “a student does not have the luxury of examining the context in which a word is used; he or she is creating the context.” In other words (pardon the pun), your own words are all you have. If you do not have enough of them, your ability to convey ideas will be restricted.
Why Using Appropriate Words Is Critical for Good Writing
Cogent writing requires a multitude of skills: careful research, solid organization, avoidance of inappropriate contractions or abbreviations (depending on the situation), and knowledge of your audience. Vocabulary, however, is an equally critical factor.
A basic primer on academic writing for college students demonstrates the important links between vocabulary and writing. The guide urges using formal vocabulary and effective transitions, avoiding redundancy and (not surprisingly) understanding a word’s true meaning before using it.
But how can you avoid redundancy, for instance, if you cannot think of another word to put in its place? At best, you’re over-reliant on the thesaurus. Unfortunately, without a minimum level of vocabulary comprehension, even the thesaurus can be hard to navigate. Moreover, many so-called synonyms have subtle differences, meaning words don’t work exactly the same in context. Without a true understanding of each word, you may apply it incorrectly … or at least ineffectively.
Similarly, transitions require a minimum facility with language to seamlessly pull the reader from point A to point B. This is among the more difficult tasks in writing, because without proving how two ideas are related, you may lose your reader along the way. Correct usage is also critical. Words such as “however,” “similarly,” “also” and “nevertheless” are all governed by specific rules … and you need to know them.
Good Writing, Vocabulary and Your Career
Studies show that 73 percent of companies look for candidates with strong writing skills, while a whopping 93 percent want employees who can think critically and communicate clearly.
Writing well is a powerful way to indicate your other positive traits to schools and employers as well. Studies show a strong link between vocabulary and IQ score. They also demonstrate that regular vocabulary practice makes your brain work better. That’s because your working memory, the problem-solving part of your brain, relies on words to make connections and innovate … also skills employers are looking for.
What Role Does Passive Vocabulary Play?
Many people feel intimidated when they confront the challenge of enhancing their vocabulary. The common perception is that you have to learn dozens, hundreds or even thousands of brand-new words. Who has the time or the brain space for that?
This is a myth. Having a large vocabulary does not mean tossing off Scrabble-worthy words every time you want to impress someone or get a point across. It’s about using the right words when you need them, ideally without having to interrupt your writing flow to search for them. It means having access to the most precise option at all times – when reading and speaking as well as writing.
Your passive vocabulary is much larger than you think. Passive vocabulary refers to the terms you already understand, but don’t use regularly or at all. Practicing can help you move these words you already understand into your everyday writing.
The takeaway? With just a little help, you can transition words you already understand to words you employ daily. That’s exactly what we do here at Vocabulary Zone. Now all you have to do is pause briefly in your writing, and the perfect word will materialize without effort.
Of course, we might be a little biased. But we still think you’d benefit from getting in touch and seeing how we can help you today.
Written by Greg Ragland, President, CEO of CommEdge LLC producers of Vocabulary Zone and the corresponding Vocabulary Certifications: College Preparedness, Ph.D. Vocabulary and Executive Level Vocabulary