The Dos and Don’ts of Using a Thesaurus for Marketing Copy

by Michelle Salater on January 16, 2012


Keeping your web copy snappy and fresh is crucial to keeping your readers’ attention. And free online tools (including thesauruses) make achieving diversity in your writing easier than ever. But writer beware: there is an art to using the thesaurus. Those who don’t master that art end up looking…well, take a gander at these examples for some tips on what NOT to do when hunting down synonyms.

1. DON’T overdo it.

Add too many synonyms to your writing, and you risk sounding like a—well, like a thesaurus. For example, let’s say you wanted to jazz up this sentence: “Our team is available via email 24 hours a day to field emergencies.”

This is overdoing it: “Our aggregation is accessible, available, and reachable via email 24 hours per sun-cycle to handle and address emergencies, accidents, and difficulties.”

Using lots of words that mean the same thing just muddies the waters. Stick with one and you’ll get your point across better.

2. DO prefer clarity to cleverness.

With so many fun words out there, it can be tempting to dress up your copy so it sounds fancier. But remember that its purpose is to communicate, and too much decoration can get in the way.

Clear: “If you are not completely satisfied with our services, we will provide a full refund.”

Too clever: “If our services don’t leave you jumping for joy, we’ll put your cash back in your billfold before you can blink.”

While the second sentence may be more “fun,” it will leave clients wondering what exactly you mean and questioning whether you’re even serious about your offer.

3. DON’T use synonyms without a purpose.

An excellent reason to use the thesaurus is to change the rhythm of a sentence. If, for example, you feel like you’ve used the same word or phrase over and over again, subbing words with the same meaning can keep your copy crisp.

Repetitive: “During your full-day intensive, our team will help your team develop teamwork and leadership skills.”

Crisp (with synonyms): “During your full-day intensive, our experts will help your squad develop teamwork and leadership skills.

4. DO double-check definitions you’re not sure of.

The entries in thesauruses contain words that have a meaning similar to the guideword. If you aren’t 100% sure of a synonym’s definition, be sure to look it up in a dictionary before using it in marketing copy.

One example we see a lot? The misuse of synonyms for “fame.” “Notoriety,” for example, implies a negative reason for fame; “distinction” implies fame for standing out in a specific way.

5. DON’T use synonyms in common expressions.

This one might go without saying, but we thought we’d mention it anyway. Avoid thesaurus use for colloquial expressions, unless you’re going for humor. “The watched pot never boils” communicates a defined idea to readers, and as such can be used as shorthand.

“The observed cauldron never reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit,” on the other hand, sounds just plain silly.

6. DO try replacing boring words with more interesting ones—sometimes.

 When you’re trying to drum up excitement in your marketing copy, individual words can do a lot of the work for you. By strategically replacing ho-hum words with shinier ones, you create a sense of life and excitement in your reader. For example:

“This product will help you increase your monthly income.” (Yawn.)

“This product will help you skyrocket your monthly income.” (Jazz hands!)

7. DON’T be afraid to go with a “plain” word!

Finally, when using a thesaurus, don’t feel like you have to replace words in every sentence. Often, the simplest word is the best—and the most effective for your copy. Even if you thought you wanted a synonym in a given place, don’t be afraid to revert to the “standard.” After all, it’s better to be clear than fancy.

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