Whenever Possible, Use A Shorter, Simpler Word
You can use a thesaurus to jog your memory when you are trying
to come up with a better synonym, but never use a word with
which you are not already familiar. Words often have connotations
and nuances of meaning that you can appreciate only after
having seen them in context, so you are taking a great risk
if you use a word that you do not know well.
Even if you do feel comfortable with more complex vocabulary,
you should use the simpler synonym if that captures your meaning
just as well. For example, instead of "ameliorated the
situation," you could just as easily state "improved
the situation." On the other hand, a word such as "exasperated" is
more intense than a synonym like "frustrated," and
so you should use it if that is the sense you are trying to
Use Precise Language
Choose words that capture your experience fully and accurately.
- Vague: When we first started the business, I performed
a range of duties to get the company going.
- Precise: When we first started the business, I took the
initiative to contact potential partners, evaluate the service
of our competitors, and tailor our plan to local markets.
Use Nouns And Verbs Rather Than Adverbs And Adjectives
Inexperienced writers think that using fancy adverbs and
adjectives will make their writing look more eloquent, but
in fact they just bog down your rhythm and usually sound like
fluff. They also tend to make your writing sound abstract
because they are not actual physical substances. Good writers
stick to concrete nouns that the reader can grasp, and even
more importantly, vivid verbs that are the lifeblood of active,
- Before: I ran quickly to the board where the results would
be posted, with many curious people standing around waiting
anxiously to see their scores.
- After: I rushed to the board to find people crowded around
muttering prayers to themselves as they awaited the deanís
arrival with their score results.
The phrase "ran quickly" has become the more succinct
and punchy "rushed." Instead of "many curious
people standing around," we have substituted "people
crowded around muttering prayers to themselves." Thus
we gain a more vivid verb in "crowded" and a concrete
image of people muttering prayers instead of the abstract
adjective "curious" and the clunky adverb "anxiously." In
focusing on nouns and verbs, we have succeeded in showing
instead of telling.
Do not use words twice in close proximity, and avoid using
the same words regularly throughout an essay. The problem
usually comes in overusing the same noun that is central to
your topic. Although precision is important when you are describing
the details of experiences, you can get away with synonyms
when writing more broadly about themes and topics.