Why A Thesaurus Works

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

Every writer has keywords and catch-phrases that they use all the time. (I can spot the ones that Joe uses easy, and I’m sure he can name a bunch of mine!) These standard “lists” of things we each use regularly aren’t a bad thing–they allow us to churn out that rough draft quickly and get the idea down before losing the thread of what we are trying to say. Still, using words outside of the subconscious can illuminate your writing and inspire your reader.

Enter the thesaurus.

Now. I’m going to give a disclaimer here…I really don’t believe you should use a thesaurus to replace words so that you sound more lofty, or just for the sake of impressing your reader. You should still seek to communicate clearly and succinctly. Still, the thesaurus can rescue you from yourself if you know what you are doing with it.

I often write a draft of something and then go back through it to take out repeated phrases or weak words. Instead of sitting there with my eyes closed trying to come up with a good replacement, I simply pull up my online thesaurus and type in the word I’m looking to switch out. It takes far less time and it gives me some great alternatives. Truthfully, it is one of my favorite tools.

Here is a quick example…

If I used the word “energy” and wanted to be more specific, the thesaurus gives me some good choices: animation, fire, power, potency, verve, vivacity….

The trick to using this tool well is to make sure you are selecting a word that improves your sentence, not one that muddies the water. Sometimes this means looking up the word you are thinking about using to make sure it is actually a more descriptive one–or that it even works in context. (Here’s a basic one to try.)

What is your favorite writing tool?