Before you use that thesaurus…

We all have a tendency to repeat words and phrases when we’re writing, especially in longer works.  One of the tricks to get around this is to write your first draft and then use the thesaurus to correct the problem.  Sometimes this solution helps– sometimes it simply changes the problem.

I’m in the edit phase of my book right now, and I’m finding a lot of repeated words.  This is usually the time I click on the thesaurus for some help but as I do, I’m reminded of my discussion on poetry.

There are nuances to words, flavors of meaning and connotations that must be taken into consideration at this point.  Words don’t always convey the meaning you want or can change the effect of a scene.

I can think of no better example than one of the first manuals I ever edited.  The line was so bad, it has stuck with me to this day:

“Throughout this manual we will use terms that the casual user of our software may not be able to comprehend.”

Technically ‘comprehend’ is in the realm of words meaning ‘not understanding’ so it kind of fits, but comprehension involves so much more than just understanding.

Merrium-Webster defines comprehension as follows:

1:  to grasp the nature, significance, or meaning of ‘unable to comprehend what has happened’
2:  to contain or hold within a total scope, significance, or amount ‘philosophy’s scope comprehends the truth of everything which man may understand — H. O. Taylor’
3:  to include by construction or implication ‘does not prudence comprehend all the virtues? — Thomas B. Silver’

Technically, the manual did say what the writer wanted it to say, but in my book, you just called your users stupid, which is never a good idea.

So, before you grab that thesaurus and plug the holes, make sure that the word suits the situation and conveys the message you intended.

For more reading on the subject, I highly recommend “Words That Work” by Dr. Frank Luntz.

Something to think about…


“Comprehend.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. <>.

Dr. Frank Luntz (2007) Words That Work, It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear  New York: Hyperion ISBN:1-4013-0259-9

April 30, 2014

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