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.
I like the “tulip/flower” analogy. It is helpful to think about that when writing because I tend to be too wordy. In my research paper I will get to the point in an easy manner.
Thanks for your response, Hailee. I am glad these tips will be helpful to you in the writing of your research paper.
I always try to stop myself from being too wordy, and I like the point of practice being a main point in improving writing.
Thanks, Chuks. I am glad this information could be helpful to you in your writing.
This is probably the most important article for me. I realized that when overusing the thesaurus, my writing became confusing and not directly to the point. Thankfully I read this article before writing my paper and didn’t overuse the thesaurus this time. I felt like my paper made a lot more sense and it sounded more like I knew what I was talking about.
Thanks for your positive feedback, Monika. I am so grateful for your kind words, and that this information was helpful to you.
I had a college professor that made the statement, “Don’t use $5.00 dollar words when you’re writing, most people understand the $.50 cent words far better.”
Excellent point, Bill. Clarity is key, and sometimes a simpler word does the job better.
I’ve always thought that using more words in a writing assignment was necessary to make your writing more apparent and clear to others. I understand better now that labeling words in a simple, direct way will help my readers grasp the point of my writing easier.
Perhaps one should address a different audience, not writers.
I had an opposite experience with a critiquer.
My “sat down in a corner of the garden” wasn’t explicit enough, he wanted me to describe all details about the chair (almost to the shelf of the IKEA shop)
Irrelevant details are distracting. IMHO.
I wonder: was this a professional critiquer offering this advice?