Bigger is always better right? When it comes to words, that may not always be true. While there are times when using a more sophisticated or learned word is appropriate and necessary, in general, the simpler and easier to read your writing, the better. Many students are tempted to use the thesaurus to seed their papers with intelligent-sounding words, regardless of whether or not the resulting work is better for it or not. While a thesaurus can be a lifesaver when you want to look certain things up, it’s also a tool that must be used judiciously– something that you have to learn to do as a student.
First, dressing up your paper with fancier sounding words will rarely, if ever, make it a truly better piece of writing. Big words won’t mask shabby research or poorly though out arguments. In fact, they can sometimes even accentuate mistakes within your paper and make something that would otherwise be completely legible impossible to decipher. Further, they won’t make you look any smarter. What will, however, is creating writing that’s easy to read, to the point and without all the frills. You can do that perfectly well without the aid of a thesaurus.
Additionally, just because the thesaurus lists something as a synonym doesn’t always mean that a word has exactly the same meaning. Different words have different connotations, different feelings and are best used in sometimes very specific contexts. Take for example the words “eager” and “anxious.” These words are synonyms and you’ll likely find them close by in a thesaurus, but one implies a positive meaning while the other negative. Be very careful of this in choosing words from a thesaurus, it could leave you writing something you didn’t intend.
So when should you use the thesaurus? Save this reference tool for when you’re trying to use a different word to avoid repetition or are looking for the perfect fit in your writing. In these cases, it can be an absolutely invaluable tool to help jog your memory and add a little variety to your work. Just make sure you’re using it intelligently, and looking up words to make sure they really mean what you think they mean.
Can the thesaurus be your friend when it comes to writing a paper? Sure. But it can also be your enemy. Good, clear, concise writing is always better than prose filled unnecessarily with big, complicated words.