Avoid Overusing Certain Words

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

Q. When our staff accountants write memos, I occasionally grumble when they repeat some words over and over; I think it makes us look unprofessional. As a writer who understands the accounting profession, I wonder whether you think my concern is valid, and if it is, can you suggest ways to solve that problem?

A. I can understand your concern—repetition is boring, and boring memos are hard to read. That’s reason enough to find sprightly alternatives. On the other hand, some words don’t have synonyms that carry the exact meaning or emphasis of the words they replace. So I would suggest that just counting the number of times a word is used in a memo should not be the way you assess whether it’s being overused. If that word has no other effective replacement, bite the bullet and repeat it. Accuracy is more important than well-crafted prose.

Now, I suspect most accountants, since they are mostly numbers-, not word-oriented, sometimes are not sensitive to the fact they overuse some words. There is a handy free tool available on the Internet that can scan a selection of text and calculate how many times certain ones are repeated. While it doesn’t solve the problem, it at least alerts writers that they should give some attention to finding alternatives.

To access the tool, go to www.wordcounter.com , where this screen will appear:

Now simply copy the text you want assessed (highlight the text, press Ctrl+C) and paste it (Ctrl+P) in the box labeled Enter the body of text here . Then answer the questions at the bottom of the screen and click on Go>> .

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QUIZ

Test yourself on these often confused words

The spelling checker on your word processing program can do only so much to flag problems. Your best insurance is to learn the troublesome words that trip up writers and use them correctly by the standards of formal, written English.