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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles

Understanding Specific and Concrete Words in Plain English Writing

Specific and Concrete Words Specific words strip away mass and group meaning by naming things individually, one at a time, like this man Dan Saults... this Miehle wire-stretcher ... this jeep-driven posthole digger ... this Gas and Electric Building ... this Pike's Peak Mountain, etc.

These specific words enter a person's mind easily and naturally and well-defined. Our mind accepts things best when they are offered one at a time and when they call up specific referents and references—as specific words do.

The reader's mind can always find the many specific words through the one; it can seldom find the one through the many. The chances of the reader getting lost in a mass of meaning are remote when you use specific words.

When you say a "contour ditch," you not only mean what you say, but you also don't say what you don't mean. This is precisely what happened in our a government-written document which included the words "prairie-dog house," "the birth of a mountain range," and "a gully wash" all under the general term, "soil surface disturbance."

Concrete words, as opposed to abstract ones, name real things and real people as they exist in their own flesh, and as they are presented to a person's mind through his imagination, from one or more of his five senses: his eyes, ears, taste, touch, and smell.

These concrete sense-words are the guts of all good writing; they are as natural to our minds as wet is to water, air to lungs, heat to fire, light to film, smell to garbage.

Aristotle pointed out the importance of sense-words to meaning in a person's mind over 2,300 years ago; the Greek philosopher said that "there is nothing in man's mind that was not FIRST in some way in one or more of his five senses. Even his most profound thoughts and his most abstract ideas have their beginnings in his senses."

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PLAIN ENGLISH WRITING : 9 Tips to Write Better Plain English Material : Complexity and Pomposity in Poor Writing : Drop the Officialese, and Write in Plain English : How to Recognize Passive Voice : How to Replace Jargon and Legalese : How to Start Writing in Plain English : View all articles