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Concrete Language - San Jose State University-sentence creator with specific words

San Jos? State University Writing Center
Written by Jessy Goodman
Concrete Language
Concrete language gives readers a clear understanding of what you are writing about, whether it
is a place, event, person, or other topic, by providing precise details and specific identifying
information. Without concrete language, writing can seem vague, unclear, or uninteresting.
There are many ways to incorporate concrete language into your writing, whether it is a story, a
review, a formal essay, or other assignment.
This handout introduces you to several strategies for introducing concrete detail that readers need
to understand your subject as you do. Note that some strategies may work better in a narrative
essay (such as poetic devices), while others can apply to more technical disciplines. Consider the
field you are writing in when choosing what kinds of concrete language to employ. In any area of
study, learning to use precise information and word choice will strengthen your writing.
Avoid "Empty" Words
Many beginning writers use words such as "really," "basically," "very," "just," "a lot," "great,"
and "cool," which do not provide any concrete detail. Ask yourself what meaning your word
choice adds to the sentence; if it does not add meaning, delete it or replace it with concrete detail
if more information is necessary. Adverbs like many of the words above are often offenders,
though "empty" words can be found in other parts of speech, such as vague nouns and verbs.
When identifying vague nouns and verbs, consider whether they are general or specific. No
matter what kind of paper you are writing, "empty" words should be avoided.
Avoiding "Empty" Words
Vague: I basically failed the class for many reasons.
Concrete: I failed my Introduction to Business class because I didn't turn in any homework and
left early every day.
The empty adverb ("basically") has been deleted, and the reader now knows which class and
specific reasons due to additional concrete nouns.
Avoiding "Empty" Words
Vague: I am in the symphony orchestra.
Concrete: I play second-chair violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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The vague verb "am" has been replaced with a concrete verb, and the writer has added specific
nouns to show which instrument he or she plays and with what specific group.
Avoiding "Empty" Words
Vague: That movie was awesome.
Concrete: The actors in The Great Gatsby gave believable performances, and the costumes were
exquisitely made and historically accurate.
The vague adjective ("awesome") has been removed in favor of concrete information, and the
writer replaced the vague noun ("movie") with a specific film title.
Add Identifying Details
A writer writes precisely because he or she enjoys a perspective on the subject that readers lack.
The writer knows specific details and information about the subject that the reader might not
know. Especially if the subject is personal to you or particular to a specific field, it is necessary
to incorporate identifying details such as locations, place names, people's names, and
chronological information to share with readers your specific view of the subject. This is
important in any discipline.
Adding Identifying Details
Vague: The study was about asthma.
Concrete: The study, conducted by Dr. Anna Stevens from the University of Washington,
surveyed 200 adult asthma patients over one year.
With the added detail of proper nouns and numbers in the second sentence, readers now know
about a specific study conducted to study asthma.
Adding Identifying Details
Vague: The sales proposal was a flop at the conference.
Concrete: The sales proposal failed to offer the CEOs at the conference this year any convincing
Again, specific identifying information will ensure that readers picture the same event and result
that the writer has in mind.
Adding Identifying Details
Vague: My team was excited when we won the big game.
Concrete: Members of my hockey team, the Badgers, were excited when we won our quarter-
final game yesterday by three points.
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The first sentence leaves readers with an incomplete picture: what team, which game? The
details provided in the revised sentence answer these questions.
Use Sensory Details
One of the most effective ways to generate concrete language, especially in descriptive writing,
is to include information based on the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Be sure
not to rely only on adjectives for this information; verbs, nouns, and other parts of speech can
also communicate sensory details. This strategy is applicable to narrative, evaluative, and
creative writing, but it can also be useful in adding concrete information to formal projects (such
as case studies, lab reports, and technical writing).
Using Sensory Details
Vague: The sunset was beautiful.
Concrete: The sunset glowed with orange light.
Vague: She has a terrible singing voice.
Concrete: Her singing voice reminds me of a litter of angry cats scratching a chalkboard.
Vague: I enjoyed the pie.
Concrete: The sweet and spicy pumpkin pie makes our house feel like Christmas.
Vague: This sweater is so uncomfortable.
Concrete: This itchy sweater is giving me a rash.
In each of these examples, the details added in revision offer readers the kind of concrete sensory
information that appeals directly to the senses.
Incorporate Comparisons Using Poetic Devices
Poetic devices such as similes and personification add another layer to descriptive language by
comparing a subject with something else that the reader may already understand. The reader then
applies that understanding to the topic you are discussing.
Note: A simile is a comparison using "like" or "as." Personification gives human qualities to an
inanimate object.
This technique works well for narratives, stories, reviews, and even in technical and scientific
writing, for the purpose of making the information understandable to a general audience. For
example, see Lewis Thomas's scientific text Lives of a Cell, which makes dense, technical
information palatable for a non-scientific reader:
We live in a dancing matrix of viruses; they dart, rather like bees, from organism to
organism, from plant to insect to mammal to me and back again, and into the sea, tugging
along pieces of this genome, strings of genes from that, transplanting grafts of DNA,
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