Tuesday, July 21, 2009

weekly writing coach: overused words fix

Years ago, when I worked for a private foundation, my boss decided he'd seen enough of my writing about "major" grants we were awarding, and we spent an afternoon hunting for more unusual synonyms for sizeable gifts (he liked the thesaurus that suggested both "protruding" and "seaworthy" as potential nominees). And that's the problem with the overused word: Your most-interested readers, the ones who read your writing all the way through, glaze over when they see these chestnuts again and again. Even if that means only your editor, it's worth it to switch up your word choices.

This week, I note that CNN has declared the word "absolutely" overused,and, upping the ante, Wired Science magazine decided to throw five of the most overused science-cliches "into a black hole." That's excuse enough for the coach to urge you to hunt down your overused words (you write them, so you should know what they are) and try this test on any recent document: Use a search function to see how many times you've used it in a given text, just to put a number on the usage. Then, consult a thesaurus to find a few replacements, or check out The Dimwit's Dictionary: 5,000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them. Take one overused word a week to revise in this way--it'll take only a few minutes--and your writing will improve.

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