Use Strong NounsWritten by Scott Dreyer
Today I was working with a writing student in Hsinchu, Taiwan, helping him get ready for his ACT. And a big part of the ACT writing section--or any writing for that matter--is strong word choice. Excellent word choice can help you cut wordiness and clutter. As I told this young man, many people think with writing, "more is better," but that is not true. Sadly, I think we teachers have helped create this problem. When we tell students "Your essay must be 500 words long" or "your paper must be at least seven pages long," we send this message: quantity over quality. And that bar is easy to reach: just keep larding your writing with more and more weak words, and sooner or later, you will reach your 500 words or seven pages.
Speaking of poor word choice, I think of this sentence a student once wrote:
His vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
Rather than trying to express your idea with several vague weak words, it's better to do so with one strong, specific noun.
This idea is so important, I devoted a section (p. 130) to it in my book, Write Like a Chamption.
Here are some examples from my book.
The small child wobbled. → The toddler wobbled. (Think about it: a "small child" could be age 2, 5, 7, or even 10! It's vague, whereas a toddler is a child between about ages one and two, just learning to walk well.)
Robert is an extremely smart boy. → Robert is a genius.
She drove an expensive sports car. → She drove a Jaguar.
Notice: in many cases, you can take an adjective + weak noun and replace it with one strong noun.
Here are some sentences my student and I made up during class today, to do as practice. We will do the first one for you.
1. My brother and I had lunch at a popular fastfood restaurant. → My brother and I had lunch at McDonald's.
2. I was thirsty so I drank a fizzy cola product.
3. She was walking along the busy, four-lane road in front of the Hsinchu Science Park.
4. Los Angeles is a huge urban area with many people.
5. Larry likes to go birdwatching in the area that the government has preserved as a natural area.
6. Dennis was catching frogs in the lowland that is wet and full of tall grasses.
7. Donald Trump owns the huge, tall building with many stories and high elevators.
8. There is a piece of furniture with shelves holding lots of books behind me.
9. Mom cooked an Italian noodle dish with tomato sauce last night.
10, Thanks for the dinner. It was really delicious.
(Note: these are suggested ways to rewrite these sentences. You might think of other ways to reword them.)
2. I was thirsty so I drank a Coke.
3. She was walking along the Kuang Fu Road.
4. Los Angeles is a megacity. (Note: "mega" means big, and a megacity is defined as an area with over 10 million people.)
5. Larry likes to go birdwatching in the nature preserve. Or: national park, wildlife preserve, etc.
6. Dennis was catching frogs in the marsh.
7. Donald Trump owns the skyscraper.
8. There is a bookshelf behind me.
9. Mom cooked spaghetti last night.
10, Thanks for the dinner. It was a treat.
See how that works? Please keep reading my other writing blog posts, or better yet, contact me today to join a writing class! We offer both small-group and 1 on 1 classes, for all English levels, beginner to adult!
A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.dreyercoaching.com/en/about/scott-dreyer
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