Empowered Education

Thesaurus: One of the Greatest Tools Rarely Used

by Rafael Van Dyke

Anyone with experience in written communication has had the experience of producing a document with typos and grammatical errors. The good writers never say a document is complete without running a spell check first. 

Those that use Microsoft Word can check spelling and grammar at the same time. Indeed,

many documents have been saved by the spelling & grammar checks

(I certainly use it on all of my articles).

But, to be a great writer, one must take it a step further than

just making sure that a document is grammatically correct. To

make your documents better than just error-proof, you must make

use of a thesaurus – a tool that allows you to find synonyms

(terms with same meaning) and antonyms (terms with opposite

meaning) for a particular word or phrase. In the old days,

thesauruses were only available in book form; now, they are

included in just about every word processing program – not the

mention on the web (check out www.thesaurus.com.) It’s a pity

that they’re so rarely used that it’s not even in the Tools menu

of Microsoft Word anymore when you install it (you have to

either add it yourself or remember Shift + F7!)

However, it is very easy to abuse a thesaurus. Some writers have

so much fun replacing words, but confuse their readers and never

really properly convey your thoughts. The question is simple -

what is the correct way to use a thesaurus to make your

documents great? As you consider the following thesaurus tips,

keep in mind that the main goal in using it is to make your

document “flow” better.

Know When to Use It Using a thesaurus means that you’re reaching

outside of your normal vocabulary to make yours thoughts sound

better. The wrong time to do this is when you’re trying to

convey a personal message or if you’re trying to make a simple

statement. A good rule is to never use it on a one-page

document. The exception is when you need to replace a catchword

that you’ve already used in another sentence (or the same

sentence); even then, you can usually re-phrase a sentence

without having to reach for the thesaurus. Another guideline is

to only replace one important word per page with the same

exception as before. Don’t choke your reader.

Quality, Not Quantity It’s a lot of fun to look for the biggest

words we can find to replace with; but it’s not productive. The

goal is to find the word that makes the rest of the sentence

sound its best; this also means that you only want to replace

words that make a sentence unclear. It’s never fun to read a

document that is full of words that you don’t understand or that

you have to stop to regroup after each sentence. You also need

to keep your audience in mind when choosing words.

Focus on Your Main Thoughts When you’re trying to decide which

words to replace, it’s usually good to start with your main

points. Remember what you learned in your writing class: Each

paragraph should have a main sentence with the remaining

sentences supporting it. Pick out your main sentences from each

paragraph and make sure that they sound clear. From here, you

should be able to pick out the ones that need attention.

The Second Opinion Never underestimate the power of a

proofreader. They will always notice things that you don’t

because writers tend to focus primarily on the topic they’re

writing about. My proofreader (which happens to be my lovely

wife) constantly comes up with concerns that I never think

about. Most importantly, she always points out the words that

don’t make sense to her and usually has a suggestion for a

replacement. In the end, the goal is for a document is for it to

make sense to your reader; so after you’ve used your other

thesaurus tools, be sure that your final test comes from a

reader, as well.

I find the thesaurus to be one of the greatest tools that we can

use to put our documents over the top. Perhaps its decline in

popularity is mainly due to many of us not knowing how to use it

properly. Maybe this article will help the thesaurus to make a




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