Commonly Confused Words in Technical Writing

Good communication is not just about using an expansive vocabulary. It is also about properly using the words you already know. The wrong word at the wrong time will confuse the reader who may have to reread your sentence many times to get the intended meaning.

Spell checkers correct spelling mistakes and frequently provide guidance to sentence structure and grammar.  But spell checkers do not correct mistakes related to the choice of words.  For instance, spell checkers will not pick up use of homonyms (words that are pronounced the same, but are spelled differently, and have different meanings) since both are examples of valid words.  Writers must select the proper word themselves to make their writing accurate, precise and effective.

Lists of homonyms and confusing words have been compiled before. This one focuses on technical writing. Based on a survey of Technical Writers, we have identified confusing words that find common usage in technical writing. It provides guidance on traditional difficulties such as:

  • When to use between instead of among.
  • What is the difference between the words partly and partially?
  • How to properly use compose, comprise, consist, constitute and include.
  • It sorts out commonly confused words like   
    •  compared to and compared with
    • disc and disk
    • biannual, semiannual and biennial
    • Flesh out and Flush out

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