Put Down the Thesaurus and Back Away Slowly

blog-thesaurus

There’s a big difference between writing with big words and sounding smart and writing with big words and sounding pretentious. Jargon, descriptive words, rhythm, and metaphor all have their place in great writing, but it’s easy to take it too far. Freelance writers need to know when to use the thesaurus with a light touch, and when to wield it like a hammer.

Targeting Your Audience

Whether you’re feeling particularly poetic on a given day or not doesn’t matter; what matters is that you’re writing something your audience wants to read. For instance, some business people love buzzwords. They’re always shifting paradigms, pushing envelopes, and changing games – and they’d like it if you’d do the same.

But what if you’re writing for a different audience – say, people who like to make cute and cuddly teddy bears? People in the DIY teddy bear business don’t care where your paradigms went or how many envelopes you’ve pushed. They might prefer some cute and cuddly language instead.

Adjectives, Adverbs and Nouns, Oh My!

Descriptive words define your style, and they need to match both the topic and the audience. For example, it’s all right to wax poetic when talking about a fine wine.

Savor the rich yet woodsy aroma of this full-bodied red. Its lavish fruity bouquet speaks of blackberries ripening in the sun, while the soothingly subtle finish carries hints of oak and herbs.

But if you used similarly flowery language for a podiatrist’s website, people would assume the doctor was a weirdo. The average patient with a sore toe doesn’t want to sift through long strings of descriptive words. Saying “hallux paronychia” instead of “ingrown toenail” is likely to make your audience surf off to more sensible websites. In as few words as possible, patients want to know:

  • Why does my toe hurt?
  • How will you fix it?

In this instance, you’ll need to strike a balance. The language needs to be plain without being condescending and it needs to be descriptive without being lyrical or overly technical.

Is Awesome Alliteration Always Appropriate?

Alliteration, consonance, assonance, rhyme, and repetition are all powerful tools for both good and evil. For things like technical writing, these devices are often annoying and distracting. In other types of writing, rhythmic devices are essential.

Consider presidential campaign slogans. One of the most famous slogans of all time came from the 1840 Harrison-Tyler campaign: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” The alliteration and rhyme combine to make the 170-year-old slogan more memorable than campaign slogans from 10 or 20 years ago.

Rhythmic devices also have a place in copywriting. You could describe a car as having “smoothly sculpted lines” to make it more alluring.

Lighthearted works, like blog posts, can benefit from a little rhythm. Use rhythmic devices to make headlines, topic sentences and conclusions stand out, but don’t overdo it. Focusing wholeheartedly on rhythm will lead your reader to believe that you’re more concerned with your own cleverness than the information you’re trying to deliver.

The Art of the Analogy

Analogies, metaphors, and similes – they’re all ways to compare one thing to something else, and they all have their uses. You wouldn’t want to compare the entire inventory of a medical supply company to a bunch of zoo animals, but you could use other comparisons to describe their products.

This lancet is shaped like a pen, making it easy to operate.

On the other hand, if you were describing a group of freelance writers or other creatives, the zoo animal comparison might be perfectly appropriate. Some writers are tigers, always on the prowl for new leads. I’m a panda, with my yoga pants and lethargic ways.

Creative word choices and literary devices can be the difference between good writing and great writing. The key to making content shine is learning when to get creative and when to set the thesaurus aside.

Amber K enjoys writing about home improvement, gardening, and the great outdoors. When she’s not sitting in front of a computer, she can be found developing strategies to conquer the world -– or at least her own little piece of it!


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