Word choice boils down to strong words and weak words.
Strong words put a clear, specific image in the reader’s mind. A strong word forces the reader to visualize something pleasant or painful, evoking an emotion that affects her thoughts, mood, and ultimately, her actions.
Weak words, on the other hand, are more open-ended and abstract. They don’t put a clear image in your mind’s eye — and that makes them less compelling, less impactful and actionable.
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At G2 headquarters in Chicago, where I work, there are 2 bins side-by-side in the kitchen.
One is labeled MIXED RECYCLING. It’s meant for plastic bottles and containers, tin, aluminum, and steel cans, all sorts of paper, all sorts of glass. The other is labeled LANDFILL. It’s meant for everything else.
Notice how the latter doesn’t say TRASH or GARBAGE.
That’s by design.
Because in this instance…
LANDFILL is a strong word.
It’s strong because when you read it, you instantly picture where that can of Coke you just tossed will eventually end up.
TRASH is abstract.
GARBAGE is abstract.
LANDFILL is crystal clear, vivid.
And if contributing to a landfill weighs on your conscience, that word is jarring, painful.
And that pain forces you to stop, think, and change course. It makes you throw that can of Coke in the MIXED RECYCLING bin, where it belongs.