Writer Tip: Use a thesaurus, but prudentally or you might get submerged in superfluous jargon

This post was originally posted on Lisa R. Howeler’s blog, Boondock Ramblings.

There are two kinds of writers: writers who overuse the thesaurus and writers who are afraid of using a thesaurus.

Okay, fine.

There are actually three types of writers, with the third type being the writer who actually knows the proper way to use the thesaurus, but those writers don’t need my advice today, so I’m pretending they don’t exist (even though I have slowly become one of those writers, but only with a great deal of practice.)

I was once afraid of the thesaurus. Somehow, I thought I should have all the words in the universe in my head already.

It wasn’t only my pride keeping me from using one, however. I also avoided thesauruses because one of the biggest lessons we learned in journalism 101 when I was in college was K.I.S.S.

No, our professors were not trying to be inappropriate.

It’s an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

What that means, obviously, is to write what you mean and don’t add extra words.

Or don’t keep adding a sentence to over-explain what you’ve already explained.

Or don’t use large words to further elucidate your thoughts.

There is no need to keep illuminating your opinion by adding words and sentences that are completely supererogatory or superfluous. That would be redundant.

So, yeah.

I think you get the intellection I was going for. *wink*

(And you can also tell I used the thesaurus for this blog post.)

Using a thesaurus can help enhance your writing but it can also make you sound like a pretentious snob, so my advice is to use the thesaurus with care (or, in other words, caution, guardedness, prudence, or circumspection.)

Using it too much can also completely muddy what point you hoped to get across in the first place.

I don’t use a thesaurus all the time, mainly because I can’t spell the word thesaurus, but also because I try to keep to my old college class acronym in the back of my mind at all times while writing, even when I’m writing fiction.

Honestly, I don’t think there is a need to complicate sentences with voluminous words in fiction at all.

This will go against the KISS rule here a bit, (as I add more to this post than is probably needed) but after Googling the term and how it relates to writing, I discovered the term was actually used first as a design principle by the US Navy in 1960. According to the not-always-correct Wikapedia.com: “The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.”

Other phrases associated with the acronym, which could also work for writing, include “Keep It Short and Simple”, “Keep it Simple and Straightforward”, “Keep It Small and Simple,” or even “Keep It Stupid Simple.”

So, the bottom line is that while you are keeping it simple, don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit with your language so you can avoid redundancy in your prose. But at the same time, don’t go too crazy (fanatical, unhinged, unbalanced, insane) with that thesaurus, okay?



Lisa R. Howeler is a wife and mom from Pennsylvania who also happens to write. She’s been writing for 25 years, fourteen of those for smalltown newspapers in rural Pennsylvania and upstate New York. When she isn’t writing about love, faith, and family life in a small town, she’s taking photographs and homeschooling her two children. She blogs a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings at www.lisahoweler.com.

Author: Lisa R. Howeler

Lisa R. Howeler is a wife and mom from Pennsylvania who also happens to write. She’s been writing for 25 years, fourteen of those for smalltown newspapers in rural Pennsylvania and upstate New York. When she isn’t writing about love, faith, and family life in a small town, she’s taking photographs and homeschooling her two children. She blogs a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings at www.lisahoweler.com.

5 thoughts on “Writer Tip: Use a thesaurus, but prudentally or you might get submerged in superfluous jargon”

  1. the thing is… I started writing because I couldn’t find the words I was searching for in conversation. Not just long words – sometimes boring everyday words. I often had to substitute something that didn’t quite fit the bill. I hoped that, in retirement with fewer everyday conversations, writing would keep me searching for those elusive words and jog my memory.
    So I use online thesauruses a lot.
    But sometimes, after much online searching, I find that the word I’m fishing for in the pea soup of my brain, that I’m sure exists… doesn’t appear at all.
    So, in future, I’m gonna make ’em up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Nice post! However, I will say that I use my thesaurus all the time! Though, you don’t necessarily want to use a lot of strange, unfamiliar words, a thesaurus is a great help to keep you from using the same word too often and for finding a stronger word instead of a weaker one, to make your writing stronger and paint a better/stronger picture in your readers’ minds.

    Liked by 1 person

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