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New Year, New You, New Usage

A new year is all the inspiration many of us need to start something new. Hence, we make resolutions to give up smoking, drink less alcohol and bag a promotion at work. The sheer exuberance some of us feel even instils a renewed energy that has us pelting towards a gym, where the promise of a gorgeously-toned new body awaits… at least until the end of January!

Are your sentences like old slippers?

We can also use January to think anew about our writing. By the end of last year, many of us will have slumped into the tired landscape of words and phrases with which we are most familiar. By the end of 2017, we were simply rattling off very similar sentences to those we used in 2016 and 2015 and 2014… Those sentences were made up of the same words we also plucked from previous years. They were glued together with the same stale punctuation and conjunctions we have been using for decades. All of this resulted in writing that was as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old slippers.

But if we continue to do this we become increasingly samey. We start to blend in with the writers from other companies who have also fallen into the habit of relying on the familiar, the comfortable, the tried-and-the-very-much-tested. If we extend the simile we started in the previous paragraph, our old-pair-of-slippers prose starts to look a bit threadbare… the pattern becomes dreary… holes start appearing… frankly, it all starts to look a bit worn out and dull!

Thesaurus… there’s no other word for it!

Rather than giving no thought beyond conveying our meaning, one of the easiest ways of reinvigorating our writing is to use a thesaurus. Yes, I appreciate the word itself looks like the name of a prehistoric creature (presumably a very wordy one). And as far as some are concerned, the thesaurus became extinct aeons ago. But in truth, it is alive and kicking and can pump new life into written content.

As we are discussing using the new year to think about new ways of expressing ourselves, let’s just take a quick look in the thesaurus at the word ‘new’: novel, new-fangled, original, innovative, fresh, different, first-hand, up-to-the-minute, contemporary, recent, up-to-date, modern, modernistic and, wait for it, neoteric are among the options.

Okay, so you may think twice about using a word like neoteric in a proposal to manage a conference for middle managers in Swindon. But you can at least see a sea of options available within the thesaurus (found from the review tab in Microsoft Word) that could brighten up an otherwise lacklustre sentence.

Make your mark with creative punctuation

The same goes for your punctuation. Yes, there are far fewer options in terms of what marks you can use to separate individual words from one another. But those same separators can be used more creatively: use bullet points instead of semi colons to split up items within a list; actually include commas, so readers are given the space to breathe; use more full stops. To separate sentences.

A good metaphor is a breath of fresh air

The English language is dripping in tropes: metaphors and similes that create the images that help readers understand our meaning. Because many metaphors and similes have been around for centuries, they have lost their intensity. Yes, describing something as ‘black as coal’ or ‘as thin as a rake’ or ‘as brave as a lion’ will all make sense to the reader. But what they fail to do is convey a meaning that is any different from information provided by others, which includes our competitors!

"Let 2018 be the year you start thinking even more about your writing, especially if that writing is aimed at people who read reams of similar content and are therefore likely to welcome creativity and new forms of expression."

Find balance in 2018

We do, of course, have to strike a balance between using something new to make our writing glisten, and providing content that is so opaque that the reader cannot understand it at all. The acid test is to show a draft of your written content to at least one of your colleagues, asking them to provide you with some honest feedback. Tell them that you want to get your message across clearly, but that you also want your content to stand out from the crowd throng of competitors!

Let 2018 be the year you start thinking even more about your writing, especially if that writing is aimed at people who read reams of similar content and are therefore likely to welcome creativity and new forms of expression.

Happy neoteric year!