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Writing Advice: Thesaurus+

The Young Person's ThesaurusI like words. A lot. I even still have my very first Thesaurus. So a recent blog post by a PR firm on alternatives to the word "good" caught my eye.

The purpose, judging by the subtitle, was to motivate us to use more precise language. And it did offer a bunch of words that define something that's better than good. Unfortunately, most people read the article as promising a list of synonyms for good, which it didn't do, and there were a lot of snarkly comments. But I digress...


 

Writing Tips: How to get word choice right

Making lists of words can be helpful. We get even more from the exercise, though, when we go beyond the Thesaurus.

I was consulting* with a Canadian company a few years ago and the team leader was aware of how often they used certain words — and not just jargon that might be appropriate for some audiences or regulatory terms they couldn't delete. Regular words, too.

We took 30 minutes out of a team meeting to brainstorm replacement words. We asked everyone to bring the words they or the company overused. Then we brainstormed alternatives. We had a lively discussion about audience, definitions and connotations and came up with a decent list that everyone could -- and did -- use in writing from content marketing to interoffice memos to ad copy. It was fun and effective.

A random lists of words we could use is nice, but a more directed, thoughtful list of words is better. Bonus points if you listen closely enough to your audience to know how they talk and factor that into your decision making.

a photo of the inscription in Margot Lester's first Thesaurus

The inscription from my first Thesaurus.

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*Looking for some help solving problems with your writing team? I work with folks on process and quality issues, via consulting, team training and individual coaching. Email me to learn more.

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