Don’t Lead Your Readers Astray—Use the Right Word

by | Writing | 7 comments

by fanndango

by fanndango

by mensatic

by mensatic

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

— Mark Twain



When you write, do you highlight questionable words and then later search for a more accurate term? Do you do the same for bland words? Or, must you find the right word before you can progress to the next sentence?

Either way, you’ve developed good habits.


That’s why writers employ critique partners or editors. They fear they’ve overlooked substandard, misspelled, or wrong words.

Choose the best word for the following sentences.

  1. byAlvimann


    William had listened to enough of her ____. “Excuse me, madam, duty calls me elsewhere.”

    1. Boring talk
    2. Dribble
    3. Prattle
  1. Boring talk is accurate, but a solitary noun that nails William’s opinion would be much better.
  2. Dribble has no meaning in my dictionary that links to boring talk. The writer probably meant drivel. Drivel means dribble and nonsense talk.
  3. Prattle is the best of these: “foolish or inconsequential talk.” And, the sentence suggests it’s from a story set in an earlier period in which people might use such a word. My thesaurus also lists: gibber, nattering, burble, jabber, and babble. Of these, jabber or babble might work in a contemporary story.


  1. by keyseeker

    by keyseeker

    Honey ____ from the cabinet and dripped onto the counter.

    1. Ran
    2. Oozed
    3. Spread
  1. Ran is too fast for honey.
  2. Spread means gradually reached a larger and larger area. This is probably true inside the cabinet, but is not the picture of what we see coming out of the cabinet.
  3. Oozed is the best of these: “flow in a very gradual way.” My thesaurus also lists: seeped and crept.


  1. SDRandCo (26)His glock at the ready, Derrick ____ toward the cabin housing the meth lab. How many people inside would he surprise?
    1. Scuttled
    2. Moved
    3. Raced
  1. Moved is vague. It tells us nothing about how Derrick moved.
  2. Raced seems too fast for a man wondering how many people he’ll deal with inside. Stealth seems required.
  3. Scuttled is a good word: “run furtively with short quick steps.” But scuttle is often associated with rodents. Then again, Derrick wants to be spotted on his mission no more than a rat wants to be caught.

My thesaurus also lists: scurried, stole, and crept. Scurried is associated with small mammals, too. I like scuttle but crept or stole would work.


  • To find the best word, your word processor’s thesaurus/dictionary is a click away.
    click to tweet

What do you do to make sure you’ve used the best word? What word would you have used in the third exercise above?

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  1. Jane Foard Thompson


    I used to be able to pause and the word would come. Now, I highlight the substandard word, or put a bunch of capital X’s where I need the word, so I don’t miss it on review. Sometimes, we have attributed an inaccurate meaning to a word, and that is one of the many times a critique partner is invaluable.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I so agree, Jane. My partner catches mine, too. :0) I’m usually good at clicking my thesaurus often, though.

  2. Marcia A. Lahti

    stole “to move, go, or come secretly, quietly or unobserved”
    1. His glock is cocked.
    2. His goal demands surprise. Every move in the next few minutes requires stealth.

    Now do I use demands or requires or . . .

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Marcia, stole is definitely good. I imagined the crouched quick steps that a rodent makes while his eyes are alert and scanning.

  3. Donna B.

    Nice exercise in word choices…I go through that every time I edit – mine or someone else’s work! Great post!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Donna, with the ease of an online thesaurus and dictionary, I wonder how writers before the 1980s did it. Maybe they had better vocabularies.

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