obvious, isn't it? You've probably used a thesaurus at one time or another. Most writers use it for the wrong reasons, however. A still active myth is that writing has to be intellectual. Victims of this myth use a thesaurus to change simple words into complex ones.
Wrong! Use your thesaurus to make your writing simple and direct. If you have a long word, hunt down a shorter one. Mark Twain said he got paid the same amount whether he used the word policeman or cop. Since Twain was lazy, cop was easier to use—and quicker. Follow the same pattern. Find short words that say what you mean. Delete the long words. People trip over them.
Here's a rule of thumb: If you don't use the word in normal conversation, don't use it in your writing. Said another way: If you haven't heard the word at the airport or at a bus stop, don't use it.
Also use your thesaurus when you need a different word to say what you've already said. If you've been using the word simple several times in an article, find another word that says the same thing. Keep your writing fresh and your readers interested by finding simple words to express your thoughts.
Since I have an online thesaurus, I'll use it right now to find another word for simple.
As it turns out, there are a couple of dozen synonyms for simple. Even I was surprised! Here are a few words from the alternatives:
Here's what I would do with this list: I'd scan it and look at all the short words that would fit in my writing. I'd skip words like understandable. Even though it is simple, I want the most direct word I can find. Neat and plain are good bets because they are only one syllable. Lucid sounds like it would work but I'm not sure everyone understands what it means. For that reason, I'd skip it.
A thesaurus is a handy tool to have at your side (or on your computer) because it gives you options. When you need a simple word to replace a long or complicated one, open your thesaurus. When you need to find a word to replace an overused one, use your thesaurus. It's a simple (there's that word again) but powerful way to make your writing hypnotic.
As One Mad with Wine and Other Similes should also go on your shelf. I don't always find it inspiring, but using it is as compelling as a gun at your head. Thumb through it to find colorful phrases to clarify your writing.
A simile, by the way, is a phrase used to compare two different ideas. When I said the book was "as compelling as a gun at your head," I was using a simile.
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