Ever find yourself sitting at your desk, simultaneously staring at a draft of a writing project and an online thesaurus? You toggle back and forth between the two, looking for words that can substitute for those two or three terms that seem to appear in every sentence.

Well, before you start plopping synonyms on the page, consider how differences in meaning and connotation can dramatically affect the tone of your writing.

Tone, as you’ll recall from high school English courses, is the mood of a particular piece of writing. And word choice is one factor that determines mood.

For example, in writing for some of our healthcare clients, I’m frequently tasked with describing services provided by hospitals or physicians. Instead of describing cardiology is a “critical service” for the hospital, I’m better off calling it a “vital service,” given the positive connotations of the word vital (life, energy, etc.) and the more negative connotations of the word critical (crisis, criticism, etc.). Similarly, it’s preferable to describe how a client has “reduced costs,” which has positive implications of strategy and planning, than say it has “cut” or “slashed” its costs.

In addition, word choice determines whether the tone of your writing is casual or formal. Did you “talk about” or “debate” a topic? Did the researchers “look into” or “examine” a subject? Were you “mad” or “angry”?

The next time you’re putting the finishing touches on a piece of writing – or getting ready to reference a thesaurus – take a moment to consider the word choices you’ve made and how they impact the message you’re trying to deliver. A short editing session can mean the difference between a positive and professional piece of writing and a passage that unintentionally frowns at its reader.