Saylor.org's English Composition/Word Choice
Sometimes just choosing the right words can make all the difference when writing a paper. Good word choice means knowing when to use certain words and when not to use them. Not all words are equal and part of recognizing the value of a word is understanding both denotation and connotation. A word's denotation is its literal meaning, while connotation are implicit, unstated associations that come with the word. For example, 'scary' and 'terrifying' have roughly the same denotation, but most people would probably consider 'terrifying' a word to use to express a greater state of horror that 'scary'. Similar examples abound 'hot' and 'scorching', 'confusing' and 'bewildering', 'unclean' and 'filthy', 'smart' and 'ingenious'. In a sense, all these words are interchangeable, but sometimes the context of a sentence calls for one over the other. When you use a loaded word like 'ingenious' you risk sounding hyperbolic, when the sentence might really call for the more subdued 'smart'.