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Why you shouldn’t use utilize in your resume.

Utilize is increasingly over-used as a word for use. Maybe it started out this way because utilize is a very specific word, sharing the same root as utility, whereas use has many meanings.

Almost every time I see, or worse, hear the word “utilize” it makes me think that the person using it is trying to sound smarter than they appear to be. After all, “utilize” is a bigger word than “use.” Though the two words sound the same, utilize is over-used in place of use. It used to be confined to scientific, technical and bureaucratic jargon. But then it spread into marketing, and like a virus, into everyday conversations. This word is the bane of copywriters and art directors alike, not only because it is wrong, but because shorter words and lines are easier to read and understand and fit into layouts.

The two words, in fact, use don’t even mean the same thing.

According to Dictionary.com, the word “Utilize” means: “to put to use, turn to profitable account”. It is understandable that it can be confused with “use.” But that’s no excuse. Utilize is not a synonym for use. You won’t find it in their Thesaurus.

In Getting the Words Right, T.A.R. Cheney, writes:
“Utilize is not an elegant variation of the word use; it has its own distinct meaning. When you utilize something, you make do with something not normally used for the purpose, e.g., you utilize a dime when the bloody screwdriver is nowhere to be found. If the screwdriver were there, you’d use it, not utilize a stupid dime for the purpose. Use use when you mean use, and utilize only when it’s properly used to mean–to use something not normally used. The computer went off-line, so they utilized Mr. Wang’s abacus, the one he liked to use. Despite the temporary breakdown, the computer’s use-rate was up (not its utilization-rate).”

According to Bonnie Mill’s well-researched piece at the grammar blog, Quick and Dirty Tips: “The word ‘utilize’ often appears ‘in contexts in which a strategy is put to practical advantage or a chemical or nutrient is being taken up and used effectively. For example, according to the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, you might hear “utilize” properly used in a sentence such as “If a diet contains too much phosphorus, calcium is not utilized efficiently”.  So if you’re a science writer, you might find yourself using the word “utilize” usefully.

End note: the next time your staff copywriter is overburdened, utilize the services of a freelance writer like Susan Carroll. You can embed her into your team seamlessly to optimize your copy writing processes.
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