How To Be More Specific | A tool for writers
Hi! I'm Dustin the writing tutor and I help students write beyond grade level.
Have you ever wondered how you can make your words more specific? Today, I'm going to address just that with a unique tool that I created for this purpose.
Let's get started with the problem first. The problem is if we have overly general words, it's unclear, it's weaker and it's less engaging for the reader.
The solution is we need to target those specific words and change them, especially in the editing process.
The tool for this is one that can be used to identify these general words and I call it The Three Levels of Specificity.
The Three Levels of Specificity
In the Three Levels of Specificity, the first level is very general. We have words like plant, food, and animal. Level 2 is somewhat specific and in the middle and Level 3 is much more specific. Let's take a look below:
Like a Set of Night Vision Goggles
This tool is kind of like a night vision goggles because if you put on a set of night vision goggles, you suddenly become aware of what is out there. You can see things that you couldn't see before and that is my idea with this.
When I work with students in my tutoring sessions, I have them highlight the Level 1 words and the Level 2 words to get in habit of seeing something they weren't aware of previously.
How Do I Use It?
This is how you use this tool. There are three steps to really create a habit of being more specific in your writing.
The first step is to practice identifying the specificity of individual words. We want to be able to look at one word and be able to determine whether it is a Level 1 or 2 or 3.
Then the second step is to practice improving these words or phrases or even whole sentences and then we want to apply it to our own writing. That's really where it begins to take shape as a habit.
The word I'm using here is Specificity. Let's take a look at its pronunciation below:
Step 1: Identifying
Let's get some practice! What I'd like you to do is write down Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 on a piece of paper and create separate columns for those.
After creating separate columns for each level, take these words below and write them under the correct column/level.
Let's take a look at the answers below:
Step 2: Improving
Let's practice improving the following general sentences below.
Below are some possible answers.
In number 3, you'll notice that we changed 'The place was nice' to how it was nice. Sometimes asking questions like how? or what type of? will really help us to bring out more specific language.
How was it nice? - A refreshing mist filled the dale.
How was it dangerous? - An avalanche roared from the peak.
What type of animal leaped? -It was a chipmunk.
Step 3: Application
The third step is applying this to your writing. What you want to do now is over the next few months, keep practicing this in your own writing. Look for those Level 1 and Level 2 words, you might want to highlight them or underline them, and this will help you get really good at seeing words that are just not as specific as they need to be.
Let's also keep in mind that sometimes, specificity is about the content we're including. If you don't have very specific examples or evidence that you're using in your paragraphs, it's going to be hard to have specific discussions that follow.
The best way to make words more specific is by avoiding using a lot of adjectives. If you think about saying something good about someone or something, we can say that in many words, like "talked about the good things" or we could say it in a single word like, "praised" or "touted"--these are power verbs and in general, words like that that have a concentrated meaning are power words. We don't want to use words that are inaccessible to our audience or target reader, but we do want to use words that are as specific as is appropriate.