Discover the power of choosing your words well. Learn the common types of diction and get tips to improve your writing.
Diction isn’t just about which words sound better; it's a craft of selecting the best words tailored to your specific audience. It can mean the difference between resonating with your readers and losing them altogether.
In this guide, we’ll explore what diction is, why it's crucial for your writing, and give a few examples of different types of diction. If you’re looking to improve your writing and keep your readers wanting more, here’s what you need to know.
What is diction? 🤔
The simplest explanation of diction is the words you choose to use when writing. In other words, it’s about curating vocabulary to match your tone or voice to convey a message to a particular audience. Not everyone responds to the same type of language. Think about the words and tone you use when talking to a young child versus a friend or colleague — two different worlds, right?
Many people confuse diction and syntax. Diction relates to the choice of words you use, while syntax is the order of words and refers to grammar. To an extent, you have freedom with diction, but syntax requires specific word order (like the subject, verb, and object) for sentences to make grammatical sense.
To achieve good diction, here are three steps to follow:
- Use words that avoid misinterpretation and confusion. For example, "The scientist observed a significant alteration in the chemical composition of the substance." If you were to have used "big change" instead of “significant alteration,” this doesn't show the significance of what was observed. Adding "chemical composition" specifies what was observed, so there's no confusion.
- Use words that make contextual sense: When writing for a specific audience, use words they would use — for example, "He elucidated the intricacies of football to us." The terms "elucidated" and "intricacies" seem somewhat out of context. It would be better to say, "He explained how football works to us."
- Use words that are easy to understand: Unless you’re writing a scientific paper, you probably don't need to use super technical jargon, especially when explaining something to an audience that isn't knowledgeable about the topic.
Why use diction in your writing? ☝️
Diction is all about selecting words your audience uses to make the writing more relatable and engaging for them. However, there are other reasons why you should consider the words you use:
- Create character personalities: The way you use vocabulary gives readers information about characters that are often unspoken. Characters who are rough around the edges would be more blunt and concise in their communication. An elderly scholarly professor would likely speak more formally or be more convoluted in their communication, using many elaborate words, than a typical cowboy in the Wild West. You can also suggest information about the character, such as their profession, background, and age, through their word choice.
- Reinforce the setting: Let’s say you’re writing a novel; taking into consideration where and when it takes place is key. Different countries will use colloquial diction, which gets more diverse in each city. The word choice of characters living in London in the 1800s will vastly differ from those living in Australia in 2022. Often, readers can guess the period simply by the way characters speak.
- Match the purpose of a document: When writing documents in different styles, you'll want to use specific diction for each. For example, your words in a business proposal will differ entirely from the jargon used when writing a scientific research paper.
8 types of diction in writing ✍️
Depending on what you’re writing and who your audience is, you’ll want to use different types of diction. Here are eight common types of language in writing to have in your toolkit.
1. Formal diction 🧑🏫
Formal diction uses sophisticated language, void of colloquialisms. You can also expect to find complicated sentences but a strict adherence to grammatical rules.
For example, "The attendees of the proceeding ceremony were adorned in magnificent attire and had an air of regality surrounding their presence."
2. Informal diction 🤙
Informal diction is used during conversation or when writing narrative literature. It represents everyday speech, like how you would talk with your friends or family.
For example, "We should hang out again sometime."
3. Colloquial diction 🗺️
Colloquial diction portrays a specific region, group of people, or time. It's very informal, and expressions typically pertain to geographical areas.
For example, "I gotta run to the store to get some grub."
4. Pedantic diction 🤓
Pedantic diction mirrors the meaning of pedantic: excessively concerned with minor details. However, when using pedantic vocabulary, you'd express how a character attempts to sound academic or highly intellectual through complex words and extremely descriptive sentences.
For example, someone using pedantic diction to explain they went to the store might say, "I exited my calming accommodation to acquire a few essentials from the local nutrition provider."
5. Abstract diction 🧩
Abstract diction is excellent for describing emotions, ideas, or concepts — essentially anything that’s not tangible. It's often used in artistic or philosophical writing.
For example, "Her happiness simply couldn't be contained to a smile, and her laugh transformed her aura into something resembling bliss."
6. Slang diction 😎
Similar to colloquial diction, slang diction is used when talking with the vocabulary of a particular group or culture, usually during a specific era or time. Slang words can be modified versions of existing words, alternate meanings of words, or new ones entirely.
For example, "rad" is the shortened version of "radical," but instead of meaning a "significant change" or "revolutionary," it can mean very appealing or good. "Fell off," rather than meaning to fall off something, in slang terms, means for someone famous to become irrelevant.
7. Poetic diction 💌
Poetic diction involves rhyming words and playing with phonetics to create rhythm, as the poetry-sounding name would suggest. This type of diction is often used in rap, poetry, or songwriting. Sometimes, this diction doesn't involve rhythm and instead uses descriptive language, usually to persuade readers to feel a certain way.
For example, "There are 10 syllables in this sentence, my rhyme and flow are super relentless," or "Her hair billowed like the leaves on a tree during an autumn breeze."
8. Concrete diction 🎯
Concrete diction is for stating something factual without ambiguity or abstract language; it’s best used when talking about literal topics. It deals with anything you can perceive with your senses, or in other words, tangible things.
For example, "You won the race but could've run faster with better shoes."
Diction examples in literature 📚
To better understand how to curate words, we've rounded up a few classic examples of diction in literature from famous authors and an explanation of their use.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby": "Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn." A great example of colloquial diction in Fitzgerald's writing, this passage’s tone is more conversational and informal, showing the narrator's thoughts, an effective technique in storytelling.
- Shakespeare's "Hamlet": "To be or not to be, that is the question." A phrase known by many worldwide, it’s a fantastic example of formal diction with refined and elevated language.
- Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice": "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." This example of poetic diction gives the reader an idea of the satirical commentary about societal norms they are to expect from the novel. It uses rhythmic language — "must be in want of a wife" — and it almost sounds like rap, doesn't it?
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