Write Better: Use A Thesaurus

Published by The Collegian on October 2, 2015

Too many students sacrifice peak sleeping hours half-mindedly agonizing over an incomplete, unedited writing assignment. Even the most diligent student occasionally sits at a desk for hours struggling to eloquently transfer ideas from cerebrum to keyboard. But because blood, sweat, tears and exhaustion do not spontaneously generate first-rate content, the end product is usually somewhere between good and terrible. While substance is outside the scope of this article, properly using a thesaurus will improve the form of any written material.

Simply, a thesaurus mitigates the shortcomings of a commonplace vocabulary. Writing is like completing a multi-million-piece jigsaw puzzle—with an infinite number of possible solutions—and a writer without an exhaustive vocabulary barely knows where to begin and has less than a quarter of the pieces. But while writing with thesaurus is simple, beneficial and not underhanded, it requires a bit of effort.

Let me explain.

Some writers frequently conceptualize words that are lost on the tips of their proverbial tongues (or fingers). Others are merely convinced that a specific word must have a preferable synonym. A thesaurus can help in both situations.

Effectively using a thesaurus, however, is not the foolish procedure of searching for a synonymous word with extra syllables or a more complex arrangement of vowels and consonants. This type of misuse surely tempts some lackadaisical writers wanting a quick linguistic “face lift.” But, ultimately, it creates a montage of ill-used words successfully deconstructing both the ethos and presentation of the material. Taking shortcuts in trying to write elegantly guarantees writing atrociously.

Poor content cannot and should not be masked by ameliorating word choice. That is the stuff of sophistry. But great writing is nonetheless a product of, among other things, knowledge and a polished vocabulary.

As an aside, vocabularic improvement is not inordinately difficult. Reading is the most effective method. (The internet also suggests lexis growth via Scrabble and foreign language studies.) Even dreadfully sporadic reading will marginally improve a writer’s grammar, style, vocabulary and syntax. Reading has no downside.

A thesaurus’ utility should gradually decline, however, with frequent writing because its function is only as a means to the ends of better writing and an expanded vocabulary. But the value of vocabulary cannot be understated.

Language is a great invention. Words are not cumbersome apparatuses more useful when downsized or simplified for a sloppy electronic message. Knowing terms like sacrosanct and xenophobia might be “nerdy” to someone who cannot properly use either of them. But vocabulary is mostly just a sign of education. Relying on a dull, ordinary vocabulary is like living on a diet of prepackaged, microwavable, minute-meals. Building a substantive, cultured palate is healthy, delicious and fun.

Furthermore, as Thomas Jefferson once famously wrote, “The most valuable of all talents is never using two words when one will do.” One five-star word can—and should—replace a phrase of two, three or even four mediocre words. Word counts and page limits should be pathetic contestants vying for a writer’s attention against quality. Less is always more, especially with written content.

To the reader troubled by page limits and word counts, but genuinely desirous of an intellectually superb product: realize that improved word economy increases expediency and creates extra compositional real estate for additional arguments or rhetoric. No one relishes reading a work whose length could be halved without weakening support for the proposition.

Every written work ostensibly contributes to an eternal narrative on the issue addressed. Even the most amateur writer should always feel a burden for academic excellence when he or she begins to work. Using a thesaurus can easily bolster the any academic writing. Pursue excellence, therefore, with bravura and style.

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