Are you gratuitously thesaurusing? STOP IT. NOW. I mean it.

Are you gratuitously thesaurusing? STOP IT. NOW. I mean it.

There’s this idea, in writing, that you have to sound English-y, pontificating, official, in order to get your idea across. In reality, the opposite is true.  Specific words and labels help us to understand the world around us.  (You need only to think of the difference between flower and tulip to know this is true.)

That said, wordiness detracts from meaning.

Many writers reach for the thesaurus to give their writing an air of authority, or to make it sound the way they think writing should sound. As Stephen King once famously said, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”


I call it gratuitous thesaurusing– using a thesaurus to sound official while not really enhancing or improving the meaning.


Writing is meant to communicate– whether it’s a memo or a story, your point needs to come across.

Writing that becomes difficult to understand due to five-syllable words for the sake of five-syllable words is not fulfilling that purpose.

So, yes, use tulip instead of flower, if you mean tulip.  But, don’t use tulip when flower would have done as well. Don’t try to fluff your point to enhance your message, because it actually detracts.

Label something specifically when needed–whether it’s an object or action. Otherwise, try to explain your ideas in the simplest, most direct way possible.

The best way to improve your writing and to get this concept down is to practice, practice, practice.

Do you feel that you often reach for the thesaurus? In the comments below, please share with me how you resist this urge? Or give my company a call, and we can discuss in more depth how to avoid the tempting call of wordiness. 

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