Take any word and list out words which seem like its synonyms. Then check up each of these words in the dictionary. You will be surprised by the subtle differences between the meanings of seemingly similar words. After all, if they had the SAME meaning, we would not need so many words at all :-)
Seed word: meticulous
Synonyms (or so we think): systematic, fussy, fastidious, punctilious, scrupulous, perfectionist, painstaking, thorough, accurate
Check out these meanings from Merriam-Webster Online (www.m-w.com)
- meticulous: marked by extreme or excessive care in the consideration or treatment of details
- systematic: methodical in procedure or plan; marked by thoroughness and regularity
- fussy: requiring or giving close attention to details; revealing a sometimes extreme concern for niceties
- fastidious: having high and often capricious standards; difficult to please; showing or demanding excessive delicacy or care; reflecting a meticulous, sensitive, or demanding attitude
- punctilious: marked by or concerned about precise accordance with the details of codes or conventions
- scrupulous: punctiliously exact
- perfectionist: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable
- painstaking: expending, showing, or involving diligent care and effort
- thorough: marked by full detail; careful about detail
- accurate: free from error especially as the result of care
Although the words seem very similar and in most cases we can use one instead of the other, on careful observation we can see the subtle differences in meaning and intensity. For example, words like 'fastidious', 'fussy' and 'perfectionist' are so strong that sometimes, they may even border on the negative!
When we pick words like this and systematically analyse them, it improves our vocabulary phenomenally. This exercise just took me 10 minutes. I am sure we can afford to spend that much time every day to develop one of the most essential skills required by writers.