Stephen King says, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
Perhaps Mr. King possesses a prodigious vocabulary and the jumbo memory required to hold, categorize and recall all those thousands of words at the moment he needs them. Sadly, I do not. I like to think my vocabulary is expansive, but I cringe to tell you how often my gray cells fail to produce the right word at the right time. And that’s a problem. It leads to stale prose.
The Double-Edged Sword of “Voice”
Editors hire me primarily for my voice. That’s to say they enjoy the manner in which I string together nouns, verbs and adjectives. They find my style pleasing. That’s flattering, I won’t deny it. But it’s also problematic.
Like anyone else who has written content for a long time — and who bangs out copy every single day for hours at a time — I can be prone to using the same particular nouns, verbs and adjectives over and over. It’s not exactly laziness. Sometimes this happens because, like I said, my brain cannot instantly recall the best word for the sentence I am writing at the moment. If I can’t dredge up the precise word I want, I might substitute a more familiar lexeme*, one I use frequently. This approach can be expedient and help me meet my deadline, but it ultimately leads to stale writing. I don’t want Client A’s copy to sound identical to Client B’s copy. And my clients certainly don’t want that, either.
Freshen Up Your Lexicon with a Thesaurus
I combat stale vocabulary through strategic use of a thesaurus. When I notice I’m over-using a particular word I look up synonyms to augment my vocabulary and add more variety to my lexicon. If that’s “hunting” in a synonym finder, as Mr. King asserts, then so be it.
Let’s take the word “exceptional.” I wrote a considerable amount of service line copy for a healthcare system a couple of years ago, and I think I overused the word “exceptional” in it.
Here are some other words I could have used instead (courtesy of Thesaurus.com):
Not every word here would be appropriate for describing the patient experience at a hospital. But, as you can see, many of them would make the grade.
Consider the subtle differences in the shades of meaning here:
We deliver an exceptional patient experience, with personalized treatment plans tailored to your individual needs.
We deliver an extraordinary patient experience, with personalized treatment plans tailored to your needs.
We deliver a remarkable patient experience, with personalized treatment plans tailored to your needs.
We deliver a world-class patient experience, with personalized treatment plans tailored to your needs.
Each of these adjectives will resonate a bit differently with the reader, and your job as a content writer is to choose the adjective, noun or verb that best captures the precise meaning you intend to convey.
Thesaurus Usage: Types of Content
You can use a thesaurus to freshen up or invigorate any type of content marketing copy.
So go forth and consult long lists of synonyms! You won’t regret/grieve/lament/bewail/mourn/rue it.
*I found this word in a thesaurus.