Use Synonyms

Last Monday, I summarized a book about communication. It’s a 1,200-word piece. The word “conversation” appears 21 times. That might not sound like much, but imagine talking to someone for five minutes, and in those five minutes, they use the word “conversation” 21 times. It’s a lot.

In that same piece, I used the word “discussion” four times. I also used the word “exchange,” but only once. So it’s not like I lacked creativity. I lacked discipline. Why? Because thinking of new words to express the same idea is hard, and if you rely on sheer will to do it, you will fail. That’s why opening a thesaurus — a dictionary for synonyms, if you will — is one of the biggest acts of service you can perform for your readers.

On a better Monday, I’d have kept a tab with a thesaurus open during my editing. I’d have used the word “conversation” less to begin with, and I’d have replaced it with beautiful terms like “dialogue,” “discourse,” or “debate” wherever it piled up a little too frequently.

This kind of creativity takes zero genius thought. It’s a matter of effort and effort alone. As long as you’re willing to spend 15 seconds browsing synonyms and picking one that’s appropriate — and to do so time and again — you’ll reap this precious activity’s rewards: Your writing will be three times more colorful, twice as nuanced, and you will look like a genius despite simply being dedicated.

The English language has 171,476 words. To get through everyday life, we rely on a mere 3,000 of them. It’s a myth that we only use 20% of our brain, but it seems we are using only 2% of our language. That’s a shame for our “conversations,” but in our writing, it’s an outright disgrace.

Open a thesaurus. Use synonyms.