Select Words and Phrases Easily

Hannah, a self-employed weaver, explained that she sends letters to specialty gift stores asking them to consider carrying her products. "I have a lot of trouble," Hannah says, "finding new ways to say the same thing." Here's how Hannah's most recent letter began:

Dear Store Owner:

As you plan your fall inventory assortment, I invite you to add a selection of my afghans and placemat sets to your product mix. Handwoven, they are of the highest quality wool and in unique colors.

Hannah wanted to replace two terms that she thought were trite: "highest quality" and "unique."

To come up with alternatives, first use a thesaurus to identify synonyms. There are books (such as Roget's Thesaurus) and online systems.

In Microsoft Word, for example, pressing shift and F7 brings up the synonym finder. Highlight the word or phrase you're trying to replace and consider your options. Once you've found a synonym, you can dig deeper for other related words. By clicking on "look up," you're able to discover subtle relationships between words that may lead you to ideas that you otherwise might not have considered. When you toss a rock into still water, circles radiate out. As you move from one word to another, the relationship between the words is like this ripple effect in the water.

As you consider Hannah's list of alternatives to "highest," note that there are subtle differences in the meaning of each word. Here's the list she came up with:

• most excellent

• preeminent

• stratospheric

Here are Hannah's alternatives to "quality":

• characteristic

Once you've identified your synonym options, try using the words in various combinations. For instance, Hannah could say that her textiles exhibit the finest characteristics. Or superior traits. Or that they are of preeminent quality.

There is no best option. Several acceptable alternatives exist. Probably astral isn't a good choice because when evaluated using the FURY model, it's not familiar or unique; it is rich. But it's so esoteric, it should probably be avoided. Remember, the best words are those that are most familiar to your readers.

Hannah said, "I like the word superior. I decided to use it in addition to preeminent." Here's how she revised the phrase that used to say "highest quality":

Handwoven, the wool is of superior quality, and the workmanship is preeminent.

Thinking about the word unique, Hannah realized that it is overused and not exactly right. "My color combinations are unusual and special. I went to a thesaurus and used my word processor's synonym finder, and here are some alternatives I came up with that better express what I mean, rather than the trite word unique:

• without equal

• without rival

• incomparable

• unparalleled

Hannah said, "Several of the word choices fascinated me. As I thought about it, I realized that my color combinations aren't unique—no doubt there is another weaver somewhere in the world who uses the same or similar colors—but if I talk about my work in its entirety, the wool, the handiwork, the colors, and the functionality, well, my products are unique. Each textile I produce is a one-of-a-kind piece, and, I believe, the best available worldwide.

"Therefore, it's accurate to say that my products are unequaled, unparalleled, matchless, and incomparable. I decided all four words were familiar, none is the unique way of expressing the thought, and they are all rich, so it came down to which was my favorite. I picked incomparable." Hannah's revised paragraph reads:

Dear Store Owner:

As you plan your fall inventory assortment, I invite you to add a selection of my afghans and placemat sets to your product mix. Handwoven, each textile is one-of-a-kind and incomparable. The design, wool, colors, and workmanship are preeminent.

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