Shuffle the pack

While proofreading an academic assignment this morning, I found the phrase a lot of used repeatedly in the discussion. Of course, when writing a discussion or essay about a challenging new theme, the last thing on any writer’s mind will be creating colourful synonyms for their favourite words or expressions.

Image of student writing

At this stage, any ideas, observations, insights and perceptions are the real gems that need to be recorded. After all, to spend your time searching for a suitable alternative to your last expression can risk sinking the ship of creative flow. No, the time and the place for polishing your writing is later, when your text is closer to submission. At that stage, proofreading is vital to ensure that your gems of creative writing and well-grounded research can engage the reader and not dissuade them through poor word selection.

To keep your writing sounding fresh, at the minimum avoid using the same adjectives, verbs, adverbs, phrases or expressions in the following sentences. Ideally, you should use synonyms for the remainder of the paragraph if necessary. Of course, in some cases it’s almost impossible to find a suitable alternative, but the key is to strive to engage with as full a breadth of the language in use as possible.

Most modern word processors offer a right-click option to search for alternative synonyms, and this is often a good choice for foreign students who are looking for opportunities to expand their language bank. However, the suggestions do need to be handled with care as subtle shades of meaning can radically change the thrust of a sentence. For example, Microsoft Word offers the following alternatives for the noun discussion: conversation, debate, argument, dialogue. Discussion and argument as synonyms? Well maybe, but as direct replacements? I think not. Also worth considering is checking the dictionary, investing in a good thesaurus, or using one of the many online versions available. A search for the same noun in Collins’ online thesaurus returned sixteen alternatives, although strangely enough argument is listed there also!

Finally, we shouldn’t forget to mention reading. After all, where better to bolster your writing toolkit than through broad and avid reading in and around your fields of interest.