Confession: I had about a month-long phase where I routinely referred to the ecosystem of my workplace. This might have been OK were I conservationist or marine biologist, but I worked in a brick-and-mortar building. I just thought it was a fitting way to describe the holistic nature of the culture. Are you wincing yet?
Like a song that’s been overplayed on the radio, an overused word can quickly go from the top of the list to “I hope I never hear that again.” And it’s not just something to consider for public speaking: Overdoing it with one word can be even worse in written communication.
That’s because when you favor a certain word, the reader can get distracted from your points. At the least, she’ll think your sentences don’t really flow (but not be able to put her finger on why); at worst, she’ll have a tally running in her head like an episode of Pop Up Video.
On the bright side, this is a simple problem to fix—and it’ll make your writing look sharper instantly. Check out these paragraphs before and after an overused word was swapped out, and learn how to fix your own writing, accordingly.
Consider This Example, Using the Word Leverage in Each Sentence:
To best leverage our resources, we should consider cutting back our expenses for this campaign. This will allow us to leverage the additional funds, spreading them out across other projects. The board will be impressed with this efficient allocation of funds, which we can leverage when discussing the overall budget.
Now, Let’s Look at the Paragraph Using Leverage Only Once:
We should consider cutting back our expenses for this campaign. This will allow us to leverage the additional funds, spreading them out across other projects. The board will be impressed with this efficient allocation of funds, which we can use when discussing the overall budget.
Here’s Another Example, Using the Word Impact in Each Sentence:
Understandably, everyone wants his or her work to be impactful. And you should consider impact at every stage of the interview process. When reviewing position descriptions, look for impact. When answering, “Tell me about yourself,” frame your answer by starting with, “I’m happiest when my work impacts others.”
Now, Let’s Look at the Paragraph Using Impact Only Once:
Understandably, everyone wants his or her work to be meaningful. And you should consider impact at every stage of the interview process. When reviewing position descriptions, look for how your work will affect others. When answering, “Tell me about yourself,” frame your answer by starting with, “I’m happiest when I’m making a difference.”
Edit Your Own Work
There are two simple ways to catch an overused word. The first is to ask yourself: Do you have a favorite buzzword? Maybe you always choose “demonstrate” over “prove” and “show,” or you love describing the “synergy” between two things. Odds are, your preferred word is showing up in your writing more than you think.
An editor taught me the second method: She suggests using the “find” tool [either CTRL+ F on PCs or Command+F on Macs] to check how many times you’ve used the same term. For example, say you write a blog post (or a report for a client or an important email) in which you discuss leadership trends.
Use the “find” function to highlight uses of the words “leader” and “leadership.” If you see that you’re using them multiple times in the same paragraph—or sentence—swap in some synonyms. “Naturally, leaders play an important role in an organization’s leadership,” sounds better as, “Naturally, leaders play an important role in the direction an organization takes.”
Check this example out:
In an effort to be as productive as possible and beat deadlines, you may be tempted to send off whatever you’ve written the moment you’ve run spell check. However, it only takes a couple of minutes to spot—or let the computer find—word repetition. And taking the time to vary your language will make everything you write look more polished and impressive.
Photo of writing courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
TopicsTools & Skills , Email , Writing , Communication , Grammar , Syndication , Succeeding on the Job
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author