How To Use A Thesaurus For Blogging
“Human understanding more easily invents new things than new words.”
-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Words have great power—something Alexis de Tocqueville understood greatly. The French diplomat was best known for his critiques of the American government. His published work was held in high regard, not only for its sharp observations but also its impeccable craft. His above quote acknowledges the difficulty in, and importance of, choosing the right words.
Thus, learning how to use a thesaurus when writing becomes a crucial skill. Word choice can make the difference between a compelling post that converts and a boring one that drives readers away.
The power of the word
The proper term for word choice is diction. The Dictionary of Contemporary English defines diction as, “the choice and use of words and phrases to express meaning, especially in literature”. Diction also refers to accents, intonation, inflection, and dialect— all factors that can affect the tone of your writing.
Diction is important because it shapes your work and dictates the style of your writing to the reader. It gives you credibility. For example, if you’re writing a blog post about SEO, and you refer to a keyword as a target word or anchor text as underlined phrase, the reader may not take you seriously because those terms do not all mean the same thing. Proper diction helps you establish authority and communicate confidence in your field. It tells the reader to trust you and your expertise, which is imperative when fostering brand loyalty.
Diction can help keep your copy concise and clean. Take the following sentence for example: The positive effects of our new pricing were easy to understand. Instead of easy to understand, you could use words like obvious, undeniable, or evident.
Diction can also make your piece unique. In some cases, you may be limited to industry-specific terms. For instance, if you’re writing about cryptocurrency, there aren’t synonyms for words like blockchain and flag pattern. But you may find that general phrases and words are overused in your industry. Financial blog writers often state that they’re cautiously optimistic, which means they expect positive things but they’re aware of market volatility. As an alternative, you can use phrases like limited growth opportunity or slow turnaround.
Choose new words that keep your content fresh and differentiate you from the competition.
How to use a thesaurus when writing
There are several guidelines to consider when choosing the right word. A thesaurus can help you expand your vocabulary and understanding of the meanings of words. However, before you start making substitutions, you must first understand where you should focus. You want to use a thesaurus to better your writing in a calculated, precise way—not just for the sake of using new words.
1. Use strong adjectives in place of “double adjectives” or adverbs.
It’s common to use modifiers like really or very to communicate the importance of a word: “When you use this method, your returns will be very big.” It’s easy to understand the implications of the phrase very big, but it’s simplistic and wordy. Instead, replace it with a single word that elevates your message and eliminates the extra word: “When you use this method, your returns will be significant.”
2. Replace passive verbs with descriptive ones.
Blog posts are most effective when they’re written in active voice, and active voice requires the use of verbs (i.e. he said this, she did that). But your verb usage can seem plain or repetitive if you don’t mix things up and choose your diction carefully. “She walked down the street” versus “She sauntered down the street.”
For example, said is often used with quotes (i.e. Bob Richards said.) Switch out said for something more emotive like declared or demanded. (Note that not every said needs to be adjusted.)
3. Look for opportunities to improve weak verbs.
Passive verbs can also bog down your text with extra words, often hiding the meaning of your sentences. For instance, “The package was sent out today before noon.” In this sentence, we don’t know who sent the package, and it’s a rather clunky way to communicate this information. With revision to an active verb, this sentence becomes, “I sent the package today before noon.” Now, it’s clear who performed the action, and the message is more direct.
Typically, weak verbs include:
Passive voice, which is when something is done to the main noun rather than the noun doing the verb
The various forms of the phrase to be (i.e. am, are, is, was, were, will, being, been).
Verbs that are adjusted to past tense without changing the core of the word. To use these words in past tense, you only need to add an –ed at the end. For example, present tense: count. Past tense: counted.
Strong verbs are considered irregular and require changes to the core spelling in order to communicate a different tense:
Present tense: give. Past tense: gave.
Present tense: steal. Past tense: stole.
Present tense: buy. Past tense: bought.
Irregular verbs boost the power of your writing. Take this sentence, for example: “Your profits may have decreased because you didn’t have a good content marketing strategy.” There’s nothing wrong with this sentence grammatically. But it’s wordy, and it’s anchored by the weak verbs may have decreased.
Instead, try this: “Your profits shrunk without a comprehensive content marketing strategy.” This sentence is more complex, direct, and concise. Plus, it’s enhanced by the irregular verb shrunk, the past tense of shrink.
4. Replace repetitive words.
Avoid using the same word multiple times throughout the same piece. For example, previous two topic headers in this piece led with the word replace? Don’t do this unless it’s part of a purposeful strategy (like proving a point about repetitive words).
Change it up. You can maintain the meaning but add variety, which will better grab and keep your reader’s attention.
5. Don’t use words you don’t understand.
When you use a thesaurus as a resource, you’ll likely encounter words you’ve never seen. Don’t feel pressured to use them. Your writing should feel authentic. When you use words you aren’t familiar with, you increase your chances of misuse. this then distracts from your message and ruins your credibility.
You should also pay strict attention to the form of the word you’re hoping to replace. If you aren’t sure of the word you’ve chosen, always utilize a second source. When you use a new word, look up the definitions and usage examples in a dictionary to fully understand.
6. Use a thesaurus during the editing process.
Don’t think too much about diction while you’re writing. Get it all out on the paper. Afterwards, as you’re in the red pen process of editing, consider those spots where your verbs or adjectives are weak. Pull out the thesaurus to help strengthen up your writing, diction, and tone.
In the past, using a thesaurus meant using one tool and one tool only—the latest print edition of a thesaurus. But now, you have an array of digital tools at your disposal.
Use the synonyms function in MS Word. Right-click the word (or two-finger click on a Mac) and scroll over the “synonyms” function. You’ll see a list of potential options for a quick replacement. However, they aren’t always the best. For example, the synonyms for using gives you words like exhausting, expending, and operating, which aren’t exact matches for synonyms of the verb to use in all situations.
Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” is a great way to boost your vocabulary over time, including blog-worthy colloquial and slang terms.
When all else fails, the print thesaurus is still a highly valuable resource.
Look at your five most recent posts. Make a list of the words you use most often. Look up those words in one of the above thesaurus resources. Write down possible alternative words you could use in future posts. Make a reference guide for those specific words. This will open your vocabulary repertoire with an easy thesaurus tailored to your personal usage.
How do you use a thesaurus to improve your blog’s diction and tone?