Variations on a Word: The Synonym

I was writing up my investigation report  today at work, when I decided to pop onto to look for synonyms. It featured this cool article on the evolution of two synonyms: gifts vs. presents.

It got me thinking about a technical writing workshop I attended before Thanksgiving. It was a great course overall, but it emphasized an important point:

  • The great (and sometimes complicated) thing about the English language is that we have multiple words that can mean the same thing, but with slight variations that can change the overall tone of a sentence.

Choosing the appropriate word for a document or situation reminds me of finding the right shaped piece to fit into an empty puzzle spot. It takes some trial and error, but when you find the right one, it can really help you communicate your message in a cohesive and logical way.

Another plus of careful word choice is that you can say a lot without using a ton of words. People like compact and concise sentences that still somehow leave a lot of impact on the reader. Contrary to what we have been taught in school, it is a lot harder to write shorter documents that still drive the same message versus filling up our writing with “fluff” to reach a specific page count.


Figure.  A cute Language Arts poster I found from that displays the power of synonyms.

So next time you have to write a memo or write your resume, think about your word choices and how you can consolidate your document to be more reader friendly.

I’ll leave you with a quote (also shared from the writing workshop):

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”

— credited to Mark Twain at the end of a 10 page letter to a friend, though the origin of this quote is disputed.


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