From “Voice Lessons”
Diction refers to the author's choice of words. Words are the writer's basic tools: they create the color and texture of the written work; they both reflect and determine the level of formality; they shape the reader's perceptions. When studying serious literature, students should rarely skip words they do not know. That is a tantamount to wearing earplugs to a symphony. To understand voice, students must both "hear" the words and "feel" their effects. Diction reflects the writer's vision and steers the reader's thought.
Effective voice is shaped by words that are clear, concrete, and exact. Good writers eschew words like pretty, nice, and bad. Instead they employ words that invoke a specific effect. A coat isn’t torn; it is tattered. The United States Army does not want revenge; it is thirsting for revenge. A door does not shut; it thuds. Specific diction brings the reader into the scene, enabling full participation in the writer’s world.
Diction depends on topic, purpose, and occasion. The topic often determines the specificity and sophistication of diction. For example, articles on computers are filled with specialized language: email, e-shopping, web, interface. Many topics generate special vocabularies as a nexus to meaning.
The writer’s purpose – whether to convince, entertain, amuse, inform, or plead – partly determines diction. Words chosen to impart a particular effect on the reader reflect and sustain the writer’s purpose. For example, if an author’s purpose is to inform, the reader should expect straightforward diction. On the other hand, if the author’s purpose is to entertain, the reader will likely encounter words used in ironic, playful, or unexpected ways.
Diction also depends on the occasion. As with clothes, level of formality influences appropriate choices. Formal diction is largely reserved for scholarly writing and serious prose or poetry. Informal diction is the norm in…