Finding your way with words

by Bubba Sugarman

When you start writing a paper, you choose a subject, you do some research, you find some evidence, and develop an idea of what you are going to say. You get all your thoughts in order, and then you try to find the right words to express your thoughts. The ideas may be crystal clear in your mind, but finding the words is sometimes half the battle. As you read what you’ve written, you may ask yourself, “Is this really what I mean?” or “Does this sound right?” or even, “What am I trying to say?” If your final draft seems wordy, clumsy, or convoluted, don’t fret! It can all be fixed with some simple word choices.

When you write, consider your audience. Remember, because they haven’t done the research and might not be as familiar with the content, you will have to carefully help them understand your ideas. When choosing which words to use, don’t “try to sound smart” by using big confusing words. Rather, remember that your goal is to clearly communicate your ideas. As you continue to write and learn, your writing will become more complex while maintaining its clarity. Simple words are in no way limited to simple thoughts.

Another way to improve your word choice is to avoid clichés. They tend to make your writing sound informal and corny. If you find that you use clichés in your writing, don’t panic! Just replace the cliché with what you really mean. For example, instead of using the phrase, “dead as a doornail” just replace it with “dead.” Or, rather than saying the court verdict was “up in the air,” you could say the court verdict was “undecided.” By saying exactly what you mean, your writing becomes more clear and understandable.

Finally, if you find that that you’ve got the ideas in your head but can’t put them into words, here are some tricks I like to use:

  • Ask yourself, “What do I really mean?” and give the answer like you’re talking to a friend or classmate (I tell my roommate all about my papers). Just say, “What I really mean is…” and finish the thought.
  • You can call someone (I call my mom) and tell them about your paper. By walking someone you’re comfortable with through your evidence, ideas, and reasoning, you can build a more concrete understanding of what you are trying to say. Tell them what you are working on and ask them if your ideas make sense.

If your friend, classmate, roommate, or mom still seems confused you can try to clarify your ideas by using different words. Once you figure out a way to explain your ideas, write them down.

 One final note, keep in mind that writing a new sentence is often faster, and produces a better result, than trying to fix a sentence. Instead of trying to save a sentence by piecing it back together, delete it and write it again.  Your ideas will be more concrete and the words will come more easily.


Bubba Sugarman is a sophomore business major who has trouble saying no to new things. He enjoys playing rugby, beekeeping, blacksmithing, bull riding, surfing, flying helicopters, playing cello, working as a writing tutor, woodworking, welding, flying planes, baking, shearing sheep, and procrastinating. As a tutor, Bubba wants to make the tutor café as inviting as possible for all students. Even if you don’t have questions, come hang out with us, we get lonely sometimes.

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