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Opinions of Thursday, 18 June 2015

Columnist: Azindoo, Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq

Literary discourse: Diction


Grammatical correctness is fundamental but not enough in academic writing or any other form of literary engagement. The words involved may all be approved by the dictionary and used in their right senses. Other aspects of grammar may be faultless, and the idioms above reproach. Yet what is written may still fail to convey a ready and precise meaning to the reader. When this happens, it is certainly traceable to wrong diction. This reminds us of the relevant words of Ivor Brown (2011):

The craftsman is proud and careful of his tools: the surgeon does not operate with an old razor-blade: the sportsman fusses happily and long over the choice of rod, gun, club or racquet. But the man who is working in words, unless he is a professional writer (and not always then), is singularly neglectful of his instruments.

There is, therefore, the need to examine diction and its significance in academic writing and other literary genres.

Learning Outcomes

After working through this discussion, students and readers are expected to:

• Understand DICTION and its relevance to academic writing
• Comprehend DENOTATIONS and proper usage
• Identify CONNOTATIONS and correct usage
• Appreciate CATCH PHRASES and their application in the right contexts


Diction refers to selecting and using appropriate words in the appropriate context for the appropriate audience or readers. Effective writing requires respect for and knowledge of words. This implies awareness of the usage of various words and their effects on readers. Indeed, effective writing demands using words that are specific and concrete, precise and forceful, vivid and clear. This demand may be our greatest challenge as writers, but knowledge of denotative and connotative meanings of words (Sekyi-Baidoo, 2003) may help us overcome the challenge.
A writer’s choice of words involves basic questions of style. Should the tone be relaxed or dignified? Should the reader be addressed directly or indirectly? Additionally, various levels of usage constitute a critical consideration in diction. Most dictionaries classify words – in terms of usage – into four. These are Formal, Standard, Informal, and Slang. All words of all types have denotative and connotative meanings. Besides, diction calls for consideration of three areas in writing: the context in which one is writing, the subject-matter on which one is writing, and the reader for whom one is writing.


It is instructive to state that there is NO single, correct diction in English Language; instead, a writer chooses different words or phrases for different genres in different contexts. For instance, each of the expressions below indicates a “wrong act”, but they are in different wordings because of the status of the audiences involved:

• To a friend
“a screw-up”
• To a child
“a mistake”
• To the police
“an accident”
• To an employer
“an oversight”

Indeed, all the expressions have the same denotation, but we would not likely switch one for the other in any of the situations. A police officer or employer may take “screw-up” as an insult, while a friend, after misspelling a word in an exam, may take “oversight” as a compliment or a sign of respect.

To be continued.

By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Centre of Language and Literacy, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale
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