The do’s and don’ts of using judgmental words

When it comes to certain words, terms and phrases, your message can get lost. Here’s how to avoid misleading—and alienating—your audience with your word choice.

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Judgmental words creep into newspaper copy, broadcast segments, social media posts and presidential debates.

Although they’re not always intentional, they can leave an indelible mark and badly distort your message.

These “judgments” can be adjectives, phrases or verb tenses. They’re often tucked into a news story, an editorial or part of an otherwise neutral delivery.

Here are a few examples:

A police blotter story of a wayward teen who embarks on a crime spree despite coming from a “good family.”

A gentrification chronicle of an urban neighborhood once known for its “seedy” street corners.

The city transplants who befriend the “crazies” in their new community.

These words add value judgments to our writing and often say more about the authors than their subjects.

“Seedy,” for example, might be used to describe a dilapidated area that’s overrun with crime, but its “unwholesome” or “disreputable” connotations could imply a shameful moral decay instead of a battle with generational poverty.

Then versus now

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