SYNONYMS….I am, sadly, one of those writers who is good enough to care about using the right word, but not good enough that I have an enormous vocabulary resident in brain RAM at all times. (A problem that’s getting worse with every passing year, I might add.) That means that I spend a lot of time with a thesaurus.

So much time, in fact, that I recently reorganized my library so that my reference books are all in the bookshelf that’s within arm’s reach of my computer. This bookshelf used to contain my programming books, and the reorganization therefore reflects my life itself. In the past, most of my computer time was spent programming. Today it’s mostly spent blogging.

I use Microsoft Word as a quick and dirty thesaurus fairly often, but if you really care about word choice I highly recommend getting used to using a real thesaurus. I used to use a dictionary style thesaurus, in which you simply look up words and are given a list of synonyms. Simple. A friend of mine gave me a serious thesaurus years ago, but because it’s harder to use I ignored his advice about its superior power until about a year ago.

But he was right. Since words are organized by category, rather than alphabetically, it requires two steps: look up the word in the index and then turn to the right section. But once you get to the section you need, your choice of synonyms is both far greater and far broader than a dictionary-style thesaurus. You’re far more likely to find the word you need, and in the end it probably takes less time than the superficially easier methods of either a dictionary-style thesaurus or Microsoft Word.

Personally, I find using a thesaurus so frequently to be a real pain. But if you’re going to do it, do it right. Get a standard Roget’s category-based thesaurus and force yourself to use it. Sections 929.14 and 981.3, among many others, are pretty handy if you find yoursef frequently writing about George Bush.

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