How to use a thesaurus: Do’s and Don’ts

By November 20, 2015Writing about Writing

As Destiny talked about in her blog post yesterday, using a thesaurus to help you spice up the vocabulary in your writing is a great idea! But like Joey (see the Friends clip in her post), it is easy to get carried away. When this happens, you can lose your focus and own voice, which can make your writing either insincere or just ridiculous. Here are my tips for thesaurus use you can refer to when tempted to click “Synonyms” in Word this finals week.

If you have a word you don’t like, change it! We have all had that moment where we sit down and look at a sentence we had previously written and think “ugh, that sounds awful!” Or when you look back and see that you used the same word four times in one paragraph. Know that those words are not set in stone. You have the capabilities to change them in order to make a sentence that you are happy with. Take your time and play around with it until you say what you want to say. But…

…Use judgment when choosing synonyms from Word. Word typically does a pretty good job of suggesting appropriate synonyms. But don’t take it as the holy grail. Really think about the words it is suggesting and how they fit into the bigger picture of what you’re writing. For example, the synonyms Word suggests for “dedicated” are as follows: devoted, enthusiastic, keen, steadfast, loyal, committed, faithful, and out-and-out. If you don’t know what keen is, don’t use it. If you are dedicated but maybe not too enthusiastic, don’t use it. If out-and-out doesn’t flow well in your sentence, don’t use it. Remember, this is your piece of writing: it should reflect you. Use that power and your personal judgment to pick the correct word.

But be careful that you don’t pick the complex word just to make yourself sound better. It may seem like a shortcut to write your sentence and then choose the most complicated word you can find, but it is not the best idea, as Destiny demonstrated in her post. In most contexts, the most complex word you can find won’t fit into the balance of the rest of the sentence or overall writing. And it is also not true to you. If the words are not genuine to your voice and consistent throughout the writing piece, the reader will be able to notice, and that won’t help you.

Finally, do your research. Look at several different sources to find out what synonyms are suggested. It may take a bit more time, but you’ll find the word you are most comfortable and confident with in the end! For example, you can use Thesaurus.com or Merriam-Webster’s online thesaurus.  Or buy one from amazon for as little as $4

I hope you find these tips and resources helpful. Decent Blessings! Wait… I mean, Good luck!