Wednesday, August 1, 2007

2.4--Abstract and Concrete Diction

A. Here’s the problem:
The words you choose have enormous impact on the quality of your writing. Relying on general, vague, or abstract words—especially nouns—makes your writing less specific and therefore less convincing. In more extreme cases, abstract words make your writing seem dishonest, as though you’re pretending to grand ideas and important statements when in fact you don’t quite know what you mean to say.

B. What to do:
Look at the section on vagueness and ambiguity in the link below. Make yourself aware of the difference between abstract (general) nouns and concrete (specific) nouns. In your writing, whenever you use an abstract noun, ask yourself if a more specific concrete noun could be substituted. The results are worth the effort.

C. Example: The dynamic nature of Darcy is interesting—his negative qualities are equaled only by his positive qualities.
Corrected Version: Darcy’s personality is complex, his pride and aloofness balanced by his intelligence and loyalty.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. The novel emphasizes the demanding expectations of society and how those expectations influence the characters’ personalities. The reader gains an understanding of the social world these characters live in and how it has impacted who they have become.
2. Lady Catherine’s antics express such an intellectual abstraction that they destroy the tenability of the superficial values altogether, thereby causing a reevaluation of the situation. (I defy you to decipher this writer’s meaning.)
3. This relationship furthers Citibank's efforts towards catalyzing the electronic bill payment space (this gem sent to me by a friend in the banking industry who’s also trying to figure out what it means).

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Strunk & White, pp. 21-23