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Varying Word Choice without Resorting to "Purple Prose"

An excellent piece of writing conveys an idea to the reader. However, much like a balanced diet, a great piece of writing also incorporates a variety of different word choices. Instead of using the same sets of verbs and nouns over and over again, writers should attempt to vary their word choices so the reader does not become bored.


It’s easy to get stuck in a verb holding pattern. Verbs such as “use,” for example, can become oppressive to the reader if they are continually employed in the text without any variation. Both sports and technical writers are frequently challenged to come up with different ways of describing the same process or action.

Luckily, it is not that difficult to vary verb usage. The writer doesn’t have to resort to the thesaurus every time he completes a sentence. Instead, the writer should attempt to come up with two alternative forms of the verb and then sprinkle these throughout the text. This way, instead of relying solely on one verb to communicate an idea, the writer will have two other options. As an example, consider the following three sentences:

  1. The laser pointer identifies the target.
  2. The laser pointer selects the target.
  3. The laser pointer highlights the target.

Each of these sentences is interchangeable with the other in terms of its meaning, but the different verbs provide a refreshing change for the reader.


Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in writing is referring to the same subject in ways that appear to be different. Imagine writing a paper about President Abraham Lincoln. Instead of simply saying “President Lincoln,” throughout the paper, the writer should come up with at least three other ways of referring to the subject. Here are some examples:

  1. The former senator from Illinois
  2. The Great Emancipator
  3. The 16th President of the United States

This also works for subjects who do not have quite as esteemed a biography. Imagine writing a paper about a lab technician named Susan Fields. Here are several alternative ways of describing her:

  1. The researcher
  2. The technician
  3. The specialist in [x scientific field]


Some writers prefer to insert adverbs and adjectives into their writing in an attempt to “jazz up” their work. This can be an excellent strategy as the long as the writer does not venture into the territory of “purple prose.” Consider the following two sentences:

  1. The laser pointer brilliantly highlighted the target.
  2. The sleek, red-hot laser pointer highlighted the target with a forceful, urgent bombast.

The first example incorporates an adverb to good effect. The second sentence, however, is overwrought and farcical, and does not aid the writer in conveying information. When using adverbs and adjectives, make sure that they add useful information to the piece, as opposed to simply entertaining the writer.

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