What’s in a word? How do we choose the words we use in learning?

I’ve been doing some research into gender bias in business writing and came across an interesting piece of research into how Toy adverts use vocabulary that reinforces gender stereotypes (http://www.achilleseffect.com/2011/03/word-cloud-how-toy-ad-vocabulary-reinforces-gender-stereotypes/)

It’s a nicely constructed piece of work that presents some interesting, although hardly suprising results. For the range of adverts that were analysed, the two most popular words used in adverts targeted at boys were ‘battle’ and ‘power’, whilst those used in adverts for girls were ‘love’ and ‘fashion’.

The tool used to do the analysis is Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/create), which analyses word usage and presents results in a grid, the relative size of each word representing it’s usage. Turning the tool onto this blog gave the top words used as ‘learning’ and ‘answer’.

Words are emotive things: using a particular word can turn the audience on or off in an instant. We can choose not only the words that we use, but the way that we present them, whether to use a colloquial voice or a formal one. I often think about whether to use ‘we will’ or ‘we’ll’, usually resorting to the later, which reflects my preferred informal writing style.

I was talking to someone yesterday about the way that we choose our writing style. I’ve done a lot of academic writing, with it’s strictures and formalities, which i find strangely enjoyable, although less expressive. In business, there is a tendency to resort to overly formal expressions and lengthy phrasing. Writing for social networking sites tends to be highly informal, conversational and light.

When creating a piece of learning, it’s worth actively considering the types of words we use and the conversational tone of voice that we employ. This is something that i tend to consider more actively when writing for an audience where English is not their first language, but it’s true of any writing.

In conversation, we tend to have a highly flexible style, choosing the types of words and phrasing we use differently in different situations. Certainly i use different vocabulary in business meetings, conferences and the pub. The changes partly reflect what i’m trying to say, partly reflect the audience that i’m presenting to and partly reflect the message that i’m trying to convey.

When scripting, it’s interesting to see the difference between reading out something you have written yourself and something that someone else has written. When we use the autocue this is very apparent. We all have our own nuances of speech and language, which can make it hard to read what someone else has written. It’s also generally easy to tell when someone has written something themselves or if someone else has written it for them. You can tell from the delivery, the intonation of sentences and the overall feel of how ‘natural’ it sounds.

The current England manager reckons he can manage his team with a vocabulary of just 100 words (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12894638\), although i’d imagine it’s hard to get much nuance within that range.

Words are incredible tools, expressive, emotive, passionate, dreary, versatile and energetic. How we choose to use them is a conscious decision. It’s worth spending some time thinking about it.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Blog, Communication, Gender, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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