Ways to Improve Written Expression Include Using Sense Words

Cartoon Man Looking
Girl Eating Ice Cream
Woman Smelling Flowers

There are many tools writers use to improve their craft, which is a continuous journey. One of these tools is the use of sense words, which pertain to the human senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. When writers focus their attention on ways to improve written expression, they often reach into their toolbox and bring out the literary device of sense words. 

When well understood and used diligently, sense words breathe life into your story or article. These words promote a deeper emotional connection with the reader. It is an intricate art that requires dedicated practice and is woefully overlooked by many writers.

Wilbers explains why this tool is valuable by saying “Writers who use sense words are more likely to create a strong impression and to evoke an active response from their readers. Their writing is more vivid, colorful, and memorable" (14).

Find more on sense words here.

Sight words are the most commonly used of all the sense words. This is because we depend on our vision more than our other senses. The sense word of sight is easy when describing an event, but caution must be taken to not forget the other senses. When writing, make one of your goals to paint a vivid image in your reader's mind. 


For example, regarding the sense word of sight, an event might be described this way: "The punch knocked the fighter against the ropes. His eyes wobbled and a tooth slid from the corner of his mouth carried along with a string of bloody saliva.” Here, the reader is actively engaged, given the task of visualizing the scene you've crafted with your words. 


Taste words, though challenging, can be highly effective in certain contexts, especially in writing about food.

You may opt to use the sense word of taste. Here’s an example: “The fighter discovered blood in his mouth. The taste was reminiscent of salt with a hint of iron.” In this instance, readers can almost taste the blood as it pools in the character's mouth.


Using smell words can evoke powerful sentiments, given its direct link to the emotional center of the brain. This example highlights the sense of smell: “The wind blew smoke in his direction; it smelled of acrid pine needles and the sharpness of eucalyptus.” Mentioning the smell of smoke can evoke feelings of foreboding.

Practice spotting sense words when you read short stories and novels. And then practice writing your own. Being aware of this will help elevate your writing to its highest level.

Ways to Improve Written Expression Include 
Studying More Examples of Sense Words

Man Hearing

Sound or auditory words can help create an aural environment within the reader’s mind. Using words that conjure sounds in a scene can produce a powerful effect.


Huxley gives us an example of the sense word of hearing: “Then suddenly, crash! Something was upset; there was another crash and then a noise like hitting a mule, only not so bony . . .” (125).

Notice how Huxley sets us up with the word crash. Not only do we hear the first one, but a second one follows. Then there is a noise like hitting a mule. This softens the sound because he explains that the mule is not so bony. The sounds ring vividly in our minds.

Huxley gives us another example of the sense word of hearing.

“The roses were in bloom, two nightingales soliloquized in boskage, a cuckoo was just going out of tune among the lime trees. The air was drowsy with the murmur of bees and helicopters” (30).

We can almost hear the two nightingales soliloquizing and the other sounds, too. This places the reader in the scene instead of outside of it. These valuable sense words point unequivocally to ways to improve written expression.


Woman gets a massage

 Using touch words, those that convey temperature, texture, or sensation, can create a tactile experience for the reader. It lets readers feel what the character is feeling. The sense of touch, like the other sense words is invaluable. 

Martel gives this example of touch by stating “The tarpaulin was made of tough, treated canvas, rough on the skin after a while” (138).

Hawkins gives another example of touch or feeling by stating “I went over to the freezer and did something I almost never do—I poured myself a drink: cold, viscous vodka. I filled a glass and drank it quickly; it burned all the way down my throat and into my belly. Then I poured myself another" (179).

Whether you’re writing short stories, novels, or articles, using sense words in your writings can dramatically become one of the best ways to improve written expression. It's not just about telling your story; it's about inviting your readers to become one with it. Engage your reader by stirring their emotions, and letting your words enliven their senses.

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Wilbers, Stephen. Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, & Style. Writer’s Digest Books, an Imprint of F+W Media, Inc., 2014.

Huxley, Aldous Leonard. Brave New World. Harper & Row, 1998.

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: A Novel. Canongate, 2016.

Hawkins, Paula. Into the Water. Riverhead Books, 2017.