I’m taking it back old school today, so be prepared.
Those of us in marketing, communications, journalism, etc. will all talk ad nauseam about the content tools one needs to succeed. They vary by position and industry, but in today’s world, most content tool talk is of the digital variety.
Conversations can last a lot longer than you’d think when it comes to which project management software you use, and that’s before any writing takes place. Then, you might shift to tips on how to write a proper style guide before moving on to the website you use for keyword searching or copy editing.
These are all tools that belong in a content creator’s toolbox for sure, but they’re not, in my opinion, what’s most important.
The one content tool that’s going to save you again, and again is actually a…
Not what you thought I’d say right?
Now that I’ve completely caught you off guard, let me make my argument. A thesaurus is the ultimate tool for two reasons:
- It prevents redundancy.
- It helps you find your words.
Word choice can really trip up a reader, whether you’re using a word that doesn’t quite fit, or you’ve got the same word jumping out too many times in each paragraph. These issues can take a perfectly well-written piece of content and corrupt it, creating problems with both the flow and the ability to understand what you’re really trying to say.
Bottom line, these issues make you look like a bad writer. Use a thesaurus and save yourself!
I’ve said it one too many times
I’ll admit, the issue of redundancy in writing was not one I paid close attention to until I became a freelancer. My focus was always on getting the idea across at all costs, but my writing wasn’t at its best as a result.
Now, when I’m copy editing my own content, I specifically look for redundancies in my writing, then use a thesaurus to help me change things up a bit. I’m not altering the meaning of my sentences, but I am making them read better.
It’s easy to spot redundancies in paragraphs. For some reason, the repeated word almost always lines up with itself, so you can see it even before you read it. Swap them out if you can, using these basic rules:
- Limit repeating words to two times per paragraph.
- Don’t use the same word more than once in a single sentence.
- Try not to start two paragraphs in a row with the same word.
Of course there are exceptions. I’m also not talking about the more basic words like articles and pronouns, but bigger words, those that naturally stand out. For example, instead of saying, “Settling into your dorm at college is an essential introduction to the college experience.” I’d say something like, “Settling into your university dorm room is an essential introduction to the college experience.”
Say you were writing a story about being in your car and getting into an accident with another car, so the word car kept popping up over and over. I’d avoid that redundancy by substituting in words like, “vehicle” or “auto.” I’d even go so far as to get more specific with words like “van,” “convertible,” or “hatchback,” just to avoid being too redundant. It definitely matters.
What’s that word again?
It’s not exactly writer’s block when you can’t think of the right word for a sentence, but it’s something. Words need to match in tone throughout your whole piece, so if you’re writing something a little more high-brow, but can only think of the most simplistic of words, you need a thesaurus.
Without changing the meaning of your content, a thesaurus can help you find a better word than the one that’s just getting your point across. It turns ‘fast’ into ‘swift,’ and ‘angry’ into ‘exasperated.’ A thesaurus helps you say what you’re already saying just a little bit better, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I even used the thesaurus to come up with those word swaps.
Enhancing your own writing by leveling up your word choice is a totally acceptable practice. It’s also something we can’t always do off the top of our heads, so use a thesaurus to get out of that same-old-word-use cycle.
Using a thesaurus makes you a better writer, not a less-skilled one
Nobody writes perfectly, ever. Even when I revise and copy edit my own content, mistakes still glare back at me weeks after my content publishes. They’re usually small, and don’t happen all the time, but it’s always possible, because it’s hard being a writer.
Because of this, relying on tools that we know work is essential to our success, and it’s why I’m ready to admit that the thesaurus is my best writing buddy. Maybe it should be yours too.