Attack of the Thesaurus

By | Small Business

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you try too hard to sound smart, you often end up doing the opposite.

Thesaurus-itis is a common problem. You start to feel like everyone else is writing in flashy, exciting buzzwords and tantalizing jargon, leaving your plain, boring posts in the dust. As a business blogger, you may want to impress your readers with an intelligent, authoritative writing style, so you start swapping out simple words for polysyllabic synonyms. Pretty soon, your blog reads like an Ivy League Scrabble game.

“I am constantly seeing ‘hundred dollar words’ used in place of smaller, simpler words that mean the same thing (utilize instead of use, possesses instead of has) in an attempt to sound smarter,” writes Toni Bowers for Tech Republic. There are a few of ways that padding your vocabulary can backfire: alienating readers, sounding fake, and making mistakes.

Alienating Readers

Can your readers easily skim your posts to find what they’re looking for? If not, you have a problem.

The folks at Daily Writing Tips issued a dire warning against indiscriminate thesaurus-ing: “A big word used correctly, but unnecessarily, has the effect of making you sound pedantic. If you have to go get a dictionary to see what ‘pedantic’ means, I have made my point!”

Instead of worrying about how your readers will judge you, worry about their needs and wants. Why are they visiting your site? Ideally, they should be able to find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs. If you’re writing for PhD candidates, then carry on. If not, consider whether your vocabulary choices are helping or hindering your readers.

Sounding Fake

The best policy is to write the way you speak. If a word isn’t in your everyday working vocabulary, then it shouldn’t be in your writing, either. A lot of corporate-speak is just “keeping up with the Joneses”; in other words, using overblown language like synergy just because everyone else is.

Writer Jennifer Blanchard confesses that she used to be addicted to the thesaurus. “By using the thesaurus to change words I thought were ‘common,’ I ended up sounding fake,” says Blanchard, who used to edit her rough drafts by adding impressive-sounding synonyms for common words. “And readers can always tell if a writer is being genuine or not.”

Making Mistakes

The next time you sit down to write something in Microsoft Word, try right-clicking on a word. You’ll find the option to browse synonyms from the built-in thesaurus. Unfortunately, this handy tool doesn’t understand context, leading to some truly bizarre suggestions.

For example, in addition to more reasonable choices, the thesaurus also offers the following synonyms for write: inscribe, engrave, carve. If you announced that you were going to go engrave a new post for your blog, you’d get some strange looks.

The Cure

While thesaurus-itis can strike even the best of bloggers, there’s hope. If you have a choice between a long word and a short one, a plain word or a fancy, always opt for the simpler synonym. Make sure to proofread your writing and ask a friend to look it over, if possible.

One of the hidden gems of the Internet is plainlanguage.gov, the federal government’s initiative to communicate more clearly with the public. Driven by presidential decree in 1998, the program’s website is a surprisingly good resource for resume writers, students, and even business bloggers. If you find yourself struggling to think of simple synonyms for corporate buzzwords, check out this handy list!

What’s the craziest buzzword you’ve heard? Share your story in the comments!

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Attack of the Thesaurus

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