You’re probably looking for the best thesaurus for writers. Maybe you are looking to enhance a sentence, letter, email, blog post, or story.
Whatever the reason, finding that exact right word can sometimes make all the difference between writing that is ho-hum or humdinger.
What is the best thesaurus for writers?
The best thesaurus for writers depends on your purpose. The best thesaurus for writers who want to enhance their writing long-term is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. The best thesaurus for authors who want a quick fix to a sentence is Thesaurus.com. There are also 7 other good thesauruses.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the best thesaurus for writers.
Why Is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus the Best Thesaurus for Writers Who Want to Improve Their Writing Long-Term?
The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus is the best thesaurus for writers for the long-term advancement of their craft because it goes far beyond simply providing a list of synonyms (alternative words).
Any old thesaurus can do that.
Rather, it is the most comprehensive, most intuitively categorized, and most conducive to actual language learning. The latter is the key to not only enhanced writing of a singular sentence but enhanced writing on all future sentences.
In a way, it is the writer’s version of the parable about giving a man (or woman) a fish versus teaching him (or her) how to fish.
(According to the parable, if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime). If you are looking for a thesaurus that will feed your inner writer for a lifetime, this is absolutely the one for you.
Special Features for Writers
• Scope of word choice
• Comprehensive (writers often find more options with this resource than other options)
• Synonyms closer to the meaning of the root word searched
• Multiple meanings
• Part of speech of main entry word (plus additional parts of speech)
• Synonyms for each meaning
• Examples for how to use the word in a sentence
• Different words with the same spelling
• Specialist field (medicine, etc.)
• Personal observations from contributing authors (scattered throughout the text)
In the back of the thesaurus, you’ll find a Language Guide with a number of helpful resources, including the following: (examples in parentheses)
• List of capitalization and italicizing rules and guidelines
• List of punctuation along with proper usage (examples included)
• List of related thematic words by type and subtype (Technology, Music, Psychological Disorders, Computer and Internet Terms, Types of Poems, Fashion, Transportation, Society, etc.) – trust me, this section is crazy comprehensive!
• List of archaic words (life, grimalkin, and pismire)
• List of Latin phrases with their meanings (amor nummi = love of money)
• List of literary words used most often in poetry or other elevated writing (disenthrall, hyperborean, and divers)
Probably one of the most useful features of the thesaurus is how it supports choosing the right word with the right meaning. Word associations, word links, and noted incorrect usage assist you in avoiding embarrassing narrative mistakes.
It is basically a writer’s best friend.
Also, a benefit of owning a physical hardcopy of the thesaurus is that the mere activity of searching for the right word by flipping actual pages will more deeply imprint new vocabulary in your mind than mere “click-and-scroll” online searches (which are easier and more accessible but less mentally and physically engaging).
The title of the introduction to the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, written by Ben Zimmer, says it all: Remodeling the “Warehouse of Roget”: How the Thesaurus is Being Reinvented as a Writer’s Tool.
Why Is thesaurus.com the Best Thesaurus for Writers Who Want a Quick Fix to a Sentence?
The main reason thesaurus.com is the best for quick answers to word problems is that it is online and accessible from any internet-connected device. It is by far the best online thesaurus for writers.
It doesn’t matter if you’re using your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop (or some other future device), you can access thesaurus.com.
This means you don’t even have to walk across the room to the bookshelf to pull out the book and flip through the pages.
A simple word search will present you with many alternate terms.
A few newer updates to the site make it even more helpful. The site now provides color-coded search results based on relevance to your root search term.
The latest update is to include a typable box we can actually write out your sentence using different words in the search results. That means you can actually see multiple variations of your root word in action and actual sentences.
This takes all the effort out of wondering how different synonyms will sound in your sentence. You can type in any sentence you want and replace the root or keyword with the different words in the search results. I can’t tell you how much I love this feature.
When you want to find the right word fast, there’s simply no better thesaurus for writers online.
How to Use the Best Thesaurus for Writers
What I love most about the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus are the structure and organization.
Simple alphabetical indexing allows you to find synonyms easily and quickly.
Then you also get all the added features like multiple meanings, example phrases, and sentences and noted commonly misused words.
Let’s say you’re trying to find another word for assume. You just don’t think your Southern tobacco farmer would use it. No problem. You open the thesaurus, flip to the A’s, and locate the term.
What you notice right away about the entry for assuming is that it is a verb. You read a sample sentence. You see several possible alternatives such as presume, deduce, infer and reckon.
Reckon. The moment you lay eyes on it, you know instinctively that it’s the perfect word choice.
Ok, but gut-check aside, how do you know when you’ve found the right word? The right word…
- Matches the tone of the rest of the sentence
- Matches your voice and style
- Enhances clarity (instead of fogs the point)
- Matches the simplicity of the sentence (and writing piece)
Should Writers Even Use a Thesaurus?
Have you ever questioned the thesaurus? That may sound like a strange question, but the truth is that the thesaurus has a bad name. Many writing teachers (ahem, I’m looking at you Mr. King) warn writers to toss them out with the adverbs.
But what is wrong with using a thesaurus for writing? Do professional writers use them? Do content writers use the thesaurus? And, if so, what do writers use the thesaurus for?
Such is the controversy of the thesaurus. But why?
So many questions. Let’s see if we can get to the crux of the issue. The truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a thesaurus. Nothing at all.
The reason some writers and teachers loathe thesauruses lies in not the existence of the resource (it’s not that the Thesaurus itself is somehow bad or wrong), but in the misuse of the resource.
You see, many beginner writers stumble over the Thesaurus.
They reach for it when they are better served to get out the first messy draft.
Then thumb through pages when their writing might need that simple, direct term at the top of their mind. This is how the thesaurus became a crutch for lazy thinking.
So, it’s not really about torching your thesaurus in the name of artistic purity. It’s not really about scoffing at a resource for expanding our vocabulary. It comes down to two essential writing skills: timing and judgment.
This, naturally, brings us to when to best use (and when not to use) a thesaurus. The recommendations may surprise you.
When to Use a Thesaurus for Writers
Take the following guidelines into consideration when deciding when to pull out the thesaurus.
The most effective times to use a thesaurus:
- To find the right or better word
- To understand the meaning of a word more deeply
- To rewrite or edit your writing
- To search and replace overused words (most writers tend to repeat the same words and phrases. A thesaurus can help add fresh words by replacing repeated words with different and, hopefully, better words)
In other words, use the thesaurus not as a crutch but as a catapult. Avoid overuse. Don’t rely on a thesaurus as a shortcut to critical thinking.
Constant or even intermittent searches for the right word can interrupt the flow of the creative phase of writing. Save your thesaurus for the editing phase.
When Not to Use a Thesaurus
Just as importantly, there are times not to use a thesaurus. If you overuse a thesaurus, your writing will often come across as distant, cold, pretentious, and try-hard. Nobody wants that.
Here are times not to use the thesaurus…
When You Don’t Understand the Word
Don’t use a word if you don’t 100% understand its meaning. At best, a wrong meaning will cause confusion; at worst, a negative evaluation of writing quality.
When You Are Trying to Sound Smart
I don’t really think this point needs elaboration. A big word can look out of place if plunked there alone without a context of other big words.
And a grouping of big words is intimidating. Scholarly articles might require so-called “five dollars” words, but most other writing benefits from simplicity and clarity.
The other downside (and its major) is that trying to sound smart instead of smartly choosing the right word distances you from the reader. This snobby type of writing can put off the very readers you want to embrace with open arms.
When a Shorter, Simpler Word Would Do
Einstein said it best: “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
The smart word choice is almost always the shorter choice. Clarity trumps captivating every time. How can a reader be mesmerized if they are confused?
List of Other Useful Thesauruses for Writers
As a writer, you have many choices for a thesaurus. Some are more specific and helpful to authors of fiction, while others are useful to all types of writers. Scan the list below, take note of any that stick out to you, and check out those options.
- Emotional thesaurus (Just like it sounds, it’s a list of descriptive emotional words and phrases. Many writers sweat by it)
- Emotional Wound Thesaurus (Emotions leave scars. This tool gives you all the ways to describe those wounds on the page)
- Thesaurus of the senses (Thesaurus that helps you describe using the five senses)
- Positive Trait Thesaurus (Thesaurus of positive character traits for fiction)
- Negative Trait Thesaurus (Thesaurus of negative character traits for fiction)
- The Power Thesaurus (online crowdsourced thesaurus)
- The Well-Spoken Thesaurus: The Most Powerful Ways to Say Everyday Words and Phrases (This may come in handy when writing fiction or nonfiction)
- Misc. Thesaurus Collections (Various categories from the Writer’s Helping Writers website)
Here’s a quick summary:
- The best thesaurus for writers (long-term): Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
- The best thesaurus for writers for quick fixes: www.thesaurus.com