Tip: use the same word for the same thing

Contented tip: Use the same word for the same thing


In all business writing, including web content, use the same word for the same thing. Be consistent. It's not boring, it's clear.

This is the opposite of the advice we received in school, when we were learning "creative writing". We were told that it's boring to repeat the same word. Be creative! said our teacher. Find a synonym! Use the thesaurus!

But business English is not supposed to be creative! It's supposed to be clear.

Are you providing a workshop, a seminar, a tutorial, a class or a course? Decide, and then use the same word.

Here's an example of what happens if you break this rule. In the following sentences, people may assume that two different events are being discussed:

A workshop on basic HTML will be held at Reddnose High School on 7 July. If you want to attend the beginners' seminar, contact secretary@rhs.edu.tk.

But which word will you choose? In order of preference:

  1. the word in the company style guide
  2. the word you've always used in the past
  3. the word that seems best after a little bit of research.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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2 Comments

Rachel
Rachel

December 30, 2009

Oh boy, what a great example. I suspect people use multiple terms for other reasons too (apart from “creativity”). Often they don’t know which term is correct so they cover all the options. Or maybe they think if they use several different terms, we are more likely to get it. But of course the opposite is true. Thanks, Marc.

Marc Achtelig
Marc Achtelig

December 30, 2009

You are so right. Nothing can make technical documentation, for example, more confusing than different words for the same thing. I recently did a technical documentation project for a company that used more than 10(!) different terms for the same thing. The confusion was so perfect that even the developers didn’t know what to search for and ended up using the wrong procedures for the wrong things… Unless you are a novelist, using the same word all over again is not a sin, it is a virtue.

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