October 10

Two word choice problems in your writing

    You probably have two poor word choice problems already present in your writing, and you may not even realize it. You have deeply ingrained writing habits that operate below your conscious level. Every time mentally string words together, there are only a certain number of words that will “come to you” with little effort, almost automatically. Words from the books you've read, conversations you've had, and your own previous writing create a mental library of easily-accessible words.

    If you do a lot of writing, you probably tend to use the same words over and over, without realizing it, which creates two major problems.

    OOPS road sign against  blue sky

    Problem #1: Using the same words as most other writers

    Solution: Thesaurus.com

    Seriously, pull up thesaurus.com every time you sit down to write. I do. Even when I'm writing an email, I inevitably click over to Thesaurus.com (always open in my browser.)

    I suggest you target commonly-used words and seek out more off-beat substitutes. Start paying attention to your verbs, in particular. Verbs draw your reader into the action of your sentences. Your verbs should leap, bounce, and jolt your reader into an action sequence, not leave your reader snoozing on the couch. Check out these routine verbs (that you probably use way too frequently in your writing), and consider some more stimulating alternatives.

    Common VerbsAlternatives
    lookreview, peruse, inspect, probe, canvass
    “When you look at the data…”“If we probe the data with a finer instrument…”
    showcommunicate, exhibit, divulge, notify
    “These findings show…”“Our findings notify us of an alarming trend.”
    understandgrasp, recognize, perceive, discern, envision
    “The previous literature understands…”“Smith et al (2005) discern a difference between Concept A and Concept B.” (Insert your own concepts.)


    Check this list of the 100 most commonly-used verbs in English. Make a habit of looking on thesaurus.com for more exciting verbs to replace those boring, old hat verbs.

    Problem #2: Using the same words repeatedly in your own writing

    Solution: Pro Writing Aid Editing Tool

    Sometimes we get so wrapped up in avoiding words that other people use commonly that we don't realize we are endlessly (and annoyingly) repeating our own novel worlds.

    Yes, too many writers say, “The findings show…” but it would be an equally grave mistake for you to use “Our findings notify us of an alarming trend” five or ten times in one paper. Heck, even in one book, that would be irritating.

    You have to figure out your own writing ticks. What words do you pull up automatically?

    If you aren't sure, there is an incredible tool, which I use for my own writing: Pro Writing Aid. You can try it out for free. Grab a chunk of your writing, pop it into the box, and hit “Analyze.” The program analyzes your writing for a lot of super useful things, but I have been using it to spot my own “Overused Words.”

    I analyzed some of my previous blog posts, and I have a tendency to use the words “believe,” “think,” “knew/know,” and “maybe.” I won't necessarily eliminate those words from my writing, but when I go back to edit my posts, I'll pause at those words and re-consider whether those truly are the most effective words to use or whether I'm just being lazy.

    I've been exploring the Pro Writing Aid program, and it has some pretty amazing tools. In fact, I'm going to give the program its own post in the next few weeks.

    What about you? What are your overused words? What words do you find yourself defaulting to, almost without thinking?

    Note: That's an affiliate link, up there, to the Pro Writing Aid software. I only promote products that I use and think are awesome. Seriously, Pro Writing Aid is pretty freaking cool.


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