A Range of Writing Words

Writing words (words connected with writing, books, and plays) are important academic vocabulary. (The words discussed or practiced on this page are all on the Academic Word List-- some of the most useful words for academic study.)

Picture of William Shakespeare with a thought bubble: 'Should I imply the conflict or make it explicit? What style best expresses the theme?'

You can read them in context in two interesting Voice of America articles for English learners. One is on the development of modern English and one on William Shakespeare. (I've added a few other words since.)

After explanations of some of the more complex or difficult words, you can practice a number of writing words with a gap-fill exercise. 

If you would like to review their meanings first, you will find most of them on a Writing Words crossword. (Click here to download the crossword and here for its answers.)

Most of the words in the explanations are in alphabetical order, but there is a second list of words with two or more meanings. You can go directly to the practice activity by clicking here.


Explanations of a Few Writing Words 

A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. 

Distinct means clearly seen and individual-- different than anything else. When something is indistinct, it is not well separated from its surroundings. It often means hard to see, with fuzzy edges, blurred and unfocused. 

We distinguish, or make a distinction, between similar things to point out their differences. Something distinctive stands out from other related objects (it’s ‘distinctly’ different.)

 These words also may imply praise or honor. Someone might introduce a speaker by saying, “I would like to present the distinguished educator (or author or other professional) who ...” A person who writes with distinction writes clearly and well.

Here is a range of adjectives for describing difference:

identical- exactly the same >... distinguishable- it’s possible to tell the difference between them >... similar- alike in many ways >... related- connected, about the same subject >...distinctive- different, standing out from others >...unique- one of a kind, with nothing similar or at all like it.

Explicit means that something is clearly stated, not just assumed or left to the imagination. Example (with the related adverb): “He explicitly told me that we could go, and now he says it was ‘just an idea’ and we’re not going! He broke his promise!”

Guidelines are suggestions for the best way to do things. They are the best practices in most circumstances. However, they are not mandatory like rules or regulations. Rules usually have a penalty if they are violated, but guidelines do not. 

To highlight is to emphasize or call attention to something. Students often use yellow highlighting pens to mark sections of text they want to study and remember. 

To imply is to suggest something is true without saying it directly. For example, if citizens ask a politician for a new library and he says “Vote for me and you won’t be sorry,” he’s implying that he will support the library—but he hasn’t promised it. He may make excuses later and not get the library built. 

Implicit is a related adjective that refers to something that is implied or suggested but not clearly stated. 

To label is to describe or classify something-- to say what kind of thing (or person) it, he, or she is. A label is a piece of paper, cloth, or other material attached to something and providing information about it.

Clothing labels may give the type of fabric, the manufacturer, or care instructions. Medication labels give the name of the medicine, dosage instructions, and cautions. In the U.S., processed foods in cans or packages must have labels giving the weight and the ingredients, as well as some nutritional information. 

To manipulate (from the Latin word for hand) means to handle or work with something (for example, data). It can also have a negative meaning: to work secretly to get what one wants, not by asking for it but by subtle twisting of other people’s thoughts. A manipulative person finds sneaky ways to get other people to do things to his or her advantage.

The adjectives ‘positive’ and its opposite ‘negative’ have several meanings and uses. ‘Positive’ usually means something good or favorable, but it can also express certainty (no doubt): “I’m positive Larry visited us last Wednesday, not last Thursday.”

positive attitude is hopeful and flexible: “Mary always stays positive about life. Even when things go badly for her she finds something good in her situation.”

A  person with a negative attitude sees or expects the worst in a situation. He or she may be excessively critical , finding fault with what others do or the solutions they propose.

Positive and negative also refer to the advantages and disadvantages of a possible choice, and to opposing electrical charges.

Stress is a body’s reaction to danger or problems-- or the amount of emphasis we put on syllables or ideas. (“The boss stressed that anyone who was late to the meeting would be fired.”)

A summary is a short statement that gives the main points of a longer text or lecture. 

The theme is the subject of a person’s art or communication. The nature of reality and illusion are major themes of Cervantes’s great novel Don Quixote. The theme of a symphony is a musical pattern that occurs repeatedly in the symphony with different variations. 

Writing Words with Several Meanings

An appendix can be two very different things. In our bodies, the appendix is a tiny tube hanging off the colon. An appendix at the end of a book or document contains related (non-essential) information that didn’t fit well into the main text. 

A citation is a court summons (the formal word for a traffic ticket in the U.S.-- “The police officer cited him for driving through a stop light.”)

It is also an acknowledgement of the source of a quotation, fact, or idea: “Scholars should always cite the books and articles from which they got their facts.” A citation can also be official recognition for hard work or for courage in battle. 

To correspond has several different meanings: to have a similar position or function (the Greek letter ‘sigma’ corresponds to ‘s’ in the Latin alphabet), OR to communicate by letter. (“Thomas Jefferson had a large correspondence with scientists in several countries.”) 

Example with its adjective form: “The head of First National Bank’s home loan department arranged a meeting with the corresponding officials from other local banks and loan companies.” 

A draft is one of several versions of a piece of writing, from the time ideas are first put on paper until it is ready to be published.

'Draft' also has other, unrelated, meanings including air movement, a gulp of some drink, a way to serve beer, and calling players to major sports teams or requiring civilians to become soldiers. It can be used as a verb or an adjective as well as a noun! 

To interpret is to explain the meaning of something in a way that makes it clear. Sometimes it involves translation into the language of the listener. People may seek interpretation of dreams and technical language as well as foreign languages. “Interpretive dance” expresses ideas and feelings through dance movements. 

Range (a noun or verb) refers to distance-- how far apart different things in a group also. For example, city populations can range from a few thousand (below that we usually call a place a town or village) to millions.

Another example: A wide range of snack foods is available, from healthy fruits, carrot sticks, etc. to doughnuts and candy bars. 

Different meanings of range include a kitchen stove (cooktop and oven), a group of mountains, or the grazing area of a group of animals (as in the song "Home on the Range.") 

Stress is a body’s reaction to danger or problems-- or the amount of emphasis we put on syllables or ideas. (“The boss stressed that anyone who was late to the meeting would be fired.”)

Text originally was a noun referring to written words, especially the contents of a book or document. In the last few years, ‘text’ has also become a verb. ‘To text’ means to send a text message on a cell phone. 

Gapfill Exercises with Writing Words +

Use these writing words to fill in the blanks below:

chapter, editions, paragraph, sections, style, topic

(If you need a hint, press the question mark to get the word's first letter. This will take away from the points you can win.)

Most books are divided into chapters, major that each introduce a new (or new complications of the plot in fiction.) Each is made up of paragraphs of several (usually three to five or more) sentences. The topic sentence of a states the main idea or subject of the paragraph. Supporting sentences give explanations and examples, and the last sentence in each paragraph (as well as the last section of an essay) gives the conclusion: a restatement of the main idea or of the results found.

After authors finish writing a first draft of their book, essay, or play, they revise it, looking for errors and trying to improve its . They want to make it as clear and easy to read as possible. They edit (revise and make changes as needed) their work several times, and then a professional editor working for a publisher will edit some more. Finally the book or article will be published, but even then, corrections may be made for a new edition of a much-used book. Many of Shakespeare’s plays, for example, were published in several even during his lifetime.

Fill in the blanks in these paragraphs about Shakespeare with the words above each paragraph:

conflicts, deny, intensely, prime, range, restricted, roles, sought

Shakespeare wrote plays with a range of for actors to fill: from very roles-- maybe a single appearance as part of a crowd-- to roles that gave actors a lot of room to interpret their characters in their own personal styles. Characters like Hamlet, in an stressful situation, allowed actors to show the full of human emotions. Hamlet faced internal as well as a struggle with the king as he the right thing to do. The king was a liar, but Hamlet was too honest to his guilt for Ophelia’s death or his responsibility to take revenge for his father.

couples, diminish, global, manipulate, positive, tensions

Shakespeare’s comedies show the more side of human emotions. They are also full of confusing situations and people who others to try to get their own way, but in the end the and conflict and the now-happy can get along with each other. The theater Shakespeare used most was named the Globe, in a time when the people of England were very conscious of possibilities. The whole world was displayed within the theater as well as in its name.

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