Importance of Word Choice

Posted: January 2nd, 2014, 6:00 pm   By: brittany.corners

Using the correct word choices when you write is crucial to your success as a communicator. Nothing is more frustrating than spending time on a writing assignment, only to have it misunderstood by the reader because of simple mistakes in word choice.

Compliment vs. complement

One common mishap is confusing the words “compliment” and “complement”. Both are pronounced the same way, but have different meanings. To compliment someone or something is to praise it. When something complements another, it completes it (notice the inherent spelling hint –‘complete’ is already a part of the word ‘complement’). Master the differences between the two words and enjoy the compliments you receive – they are sure to complement your day.

Complement (v.)

  • The sparkly shoes complemented her dress perfectly.

Compliment (v.)

  • He complimented his wife on her sparkly shoes.

Complement (n.)

  • Red wine is a complement to a steak dinner.

Compliment (n.)

  • The host was complimented for his selection of red wines.

Referring to a company or brand

Another error writers often make is referring to a company as “they” instead of “it”. When referring to a company or brand, use third-person singular pronouns. A company is treated as a collective noun and requires a singular verb and pronoun. Especially when writing e-commerce content, you want to portray the company and the product in the best possible light. Do not allow a simple grammatical error to distract the consumer from making a purchase.

CORRECT: Nike is a trusted brand for athletic shoes. Its line of women’s cross-training shoes is expansive and varied.

INCORRECT: Nike is a trusted brand for athletic shoes. Their line of women’s cross-training shoes is expansive and varied.

That vs. which

Confusing “that” and “which” is a widespread mistake. According to the Style Guide, “that” precedes a restrictive clause. These clauses are essential to the meaning of a sentence – if it is removed, the meaning of the sentence changes. Because they are restrictive, no commas are necessary. “Which” precedes a non-restrictive clause. Leaving these clauses out does not change the meaning of a sentence. Because they are non-restrictive, commas are needed before and/or after the clause.


  1. Do not serve drinks that contain alcohol to minors.
  2. It is illegal to serve alcoholic drinks, which are often tasty, to minors.
  3. Young children should not play with toys that come with small parts.
  4. Toys with small parts, which often come with Happy Meals, are dangerous for young children.

Paying attention to these style guide rules brings credibility to your writing and ensures that the reader clearly understands the content.