My best friend is a thesaurus: plain English 101

Find new ways to write in plain English

As writers, editors and content creators, words are our stock in trade. Much of what we do, from writing an annual report for a financial institution, to writing a brochure for a property development company, requires us to find new ways to say the same thing. It sounds easy, but there are days when creativity eludes us. As the cliche goes, words do fail us.

In those moments, we pause, lift our hands from the keyboard and our eyes from the screen, to search our memory banks for a different word, phrase or even an entirely new sentence. We know that the right word can be the difference between pedestrian prose and compelling substance.

We've written before about the fear that many feel when they write. That fear can lock up the brain, relegating the end product to the mean streets of mediocrity. In this post, we offer some suggestions for ways to find that hidden gem.

Make the thesaurus your new best friend

If there's one thing you take away from this post, it's this: make the thesaurus your best friend. If, like us, you're using Microsoft Word as your writing canvas, then put this button on your mouse's speed-dial:

Your new BFF
Make the Thesaurus your best friend

The Thesaurus is more than just a research tool. It's a treasure trove of alternatives to frequently used words like...well...used. Depending on the context, your new BFF will offer various options, including - among others:

The adjectives: rummage-sale; second-hand; hand-me -down; expended; consumed; exhausted; spent; depleted

The verbs: operated; manipulated; benefited; enjoyed; exploited; applied; exercised

And utilised. But please, please don't use utilised. Because if used will do, you don't need to utilise. You'll see why here.

I digress.

All the right words in all the right places

The English language is made up of over a million words. Imagine the possibilities! Learning how to use language differently is the key to being noticed above the competitive noise in your industry.

In our business writing, we use plain, simple - but not simplistic - language. Doing so helps to demystify even the most technical topics. It clarifies meaning and makes the content much more accessible and credible.

Some publications, whether print or digital, will feature different styles. Some will be more informal, others more academic. But each of them have one thing in common: complicated sentences that overflow with complicated words just make the piece difficult to read and, worse, difficult to understand.

While thinking about this post, I was rummaging through some of my favourite language links.

Beyond the built-in MS Word Thesaurus , the internet is an equally rich source of new ways to use language. I sometimes find enormously useful when I just can't find what I'm looking for.

Offered by the Plain English Campaign, I strongly suggest you bookmark this list and use it every day. Because if you don't understand the words you're using, your reader will see right through you. You run the risk of losing their attention and your own credibility.

I've also recently started to use I don't claim to be perfect, so I find this a good check and balance to ensure that what I'm writing works grammatically.

Call in the copywriting professionals

The last suggestion is my favourite, for obvious reasons. If you consistently find that your sentences are a dense tangle of complicated phrases, written in passive tense and constructed with too many words that obliterate meaning, call in the professionals.

Contact us for clear, concise content that will make your story a shining light in the gloom of obfuscation and mediocrity.

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