How to Change Diction
There’s no specific way to learn a new diction other than to explore it! If you want to write better academic prose, for example, try looking up academic articles in your field. Pay attention to the words used and the way sentences are constructed. (Be aware, though, that many scholars, even the great ones, are pretty poor writers – emulate their style at your own risk!) Similarly, if there’s another author whose word choice you really admire, simply read as much of that author’s work as possible and try to absorb his or her diction.
If you’ve ever been to a performance of Shakespeare, you may have gotten his diction “stuck in your head” and caught yourself using his terminology for several hours after the performance. This is an indication of a very important fact about diction: it’s infectious! The more you’re exposed to a particular way of speaking, the more likely you are to adopt it for yourself, whether you want to or not!
When to Change Diction
In formal essays, it’s essential to adopt a formal diction and use the standard terminology of whatever field you’re writing for. Academic writing has a fairly standardized diction, and it’s best to employ that style when writing essays – don’t use colloquialisms or informal language. However, while academic diction is important, that’s not the same thing as just using big words. Your writing should sound formal, but not stiff or pretentious!
In creative writing, the choice of diction is far more complicated. Everything depends on what sort of effect you’re going for. If you write with formal diction, the piece will come across as more serious, whereas if you use an informal diction it will come across as more loose. Remember that your diction might be ironic (i.e. using a stuffy formal diction for comic effect) or might help display the character of your narrator.
The diction of characters is particularly important. In real life, we distinguish people in part by how they talk – their word choice and sentence structure can tell us a lot about them! If all your characters have the same diction, they will all sound like the same person, and will be less three-dimensional.