Writing Tools: Dictionary and Thesaurus Refresher
Last update 9/14/2017
Visual: Walden logo at bottom of screen along with notepad and pencil background.
Audio: Guitar music.
Visual: The video’s title is displayed on a background image of a dictionary page. The screen opens to the following slide: Using a Dictionary and Thesaurus for Academic Writing
- provides definitions, grammatical information about a word, examples of use
- provides synonyms, or similar words, for a word
Audio: This video includes some tips and reminders about how to use two common tools to improve your understanding and use of vocabulary in academic writing — a dictionary and thesaurus. By understanding how to use these tools effectively, a writer can become more independent in the writing and revision process.
A dictionary provides definitions as well as outlines how a word is used grammatically and provides examples of its use. A thesaurus provides synonyms, or similar words, for a word. These two tools are widely available in both print and electronic form, and you probably have access to at least a few of them.
Because APA recommends Merriam Webster’s dictionary, I will use two of their online dictionaries throughout this video.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: When to Use a Dictionary or Thesaurus
- You don’t know what a word means
- You’re not sure how to use a word
- Somebody gives you feedback about incorrect phrasing or word use
- You’re revising to reduce repetition
Audio: Writers often use a dictionary or thesaurus when they don’t know what a word means, when they’re not sure how to use a word, when somebody gives them feedback about incorrect phrasing or word use, or when they are revising to reduce repetition.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Unknown Meaning
- You don’t recognize the word
- Microsoft Word underlines part of your sentence or Grammarly indicates a word choice error
- The sentence “sounds funny”
- Somebody gives you feedback indicating wrong or unnatural phrasing
Audio: Sometimes you find that a word you thought you knew is one that maybe you misunderstand. For example, maybe Microsoft Word or Grammarly indicates a possible error in word choice. Or, you may be proofreading a draft and think that the sentence sounds funny or looks funny. Or, maybe somebody gives you feedback indicating incorrect word choice or unnatural phrasing. These might all be clues that you need to learn more about what the word means and how to use it.
A straightforward way of checking meaning is by using a dictionary or thesaurus. Let’s take a look at what we can find out from an online dictionary entry.
Visual: The screen changes to show the home page of Merriam Webster’s learner’s dictionary and the website’s URL: http://www.learnersdictionary.com. As the speaker talks, she types the word “concurrent” in the dictionary’s search bar and clicks search. The screen change to show the results page for the word “concurrent,” and as the speaker talks, she visually highlights the different sections of the results page as she describes them.
Audio: I’m going to start with Merriam Webster’s Learners Dictionary online. This dictionary is helpful because it provides simple definitions and explanations. I’m going to look up the word concurrent. As I read through the entry, I see various pieces of important information. First, I see the part of speech. Concurrent is an adjective, meaning it’s a describing word, so as I use it, I know that it always has to be used to describe a noun, or a thing. I also see that it is listed as a formal word, so it’s going to be appropriate for academic writing. Then, I see the basic definition: “happening at the same time.” And I see two examples of how to use it as well as a variation of the word, concurrently, which is an adverb.
A Learner’s Dictionary can be especially helpful if the word is entirely new to you or if you are a multilingual learner because it includes basic information and a straightforward definition that doesn’t require you to know more complex vocabulary.
Visual: The screen changes to show the home page of Merriam Webster’s online dictionary and the website’s URL: https://www.merriam-webster.com. As the speaker talks, she types the word “concurrent” in the dictionary’s search bar and clicks search. The screen change to show the results page for the word “concurrent,” and as the speaker talks, she visually highlights the different sections of the results page as she describes them.
Audio: If you want more information about the word, maybe more examples or a more nuanced definition, try using the more advanced Merriam Webster’s online dictionary. When I type concurrent in this dictionary, I find a similar but more complex result. In this entry, I see a few definitions rather than just one. It can be important to read through all of a word’s definitions because some words may have different meanings in different contexts. The Learner’s dictionary that we looked at first often focuses on the most common use of a word, but other dictionaries, like the Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary, will give you more information about the word’s use.
Some helpful features of this dictionary’s entry are examples of how it has been used in published works and an explanation of how it is similar to and different from the related word consecutive. Both of these features can help a person better understand how to correctly use this word.
Finally, this dictionary includes synonyms, antonyms, and related words. This is similar to what you might find in a thesaurus. Checking this section can help you better understand a word if it’s new to you. By looking at synonyms, you can get a better understanding of what concurrent means. Of course, it’s important to remember that if two words are synonyms, it doesn’t mean that they have the exact same meaning; it means that they have a similar meaning. Whether or not you can substitute one synonym for another depends on the meaning and context of each word.
Visual: The screen changes to show the a Microsoft Word document with the Thesaurus feature opened in the Review tab menu. As the speaker talks, she types the word “concurrent” in the thesaurus’s search bar and clicks search. The screen change to show the results page for the word “concurrent,” and as the speaker talks, she visually highlights the different sections of the results page as she describes them.
Audio: You can also use the thesaurus feature in Microsoft Word, but you need to be cautious when doing so. As I mentioned, synonyms typically don’t have the exact same meaning. When I look up concurrent in Microsoft Word’s thesaurus feature, I see two main categories of synonyms: those that have meanings similar to simultaneous and those that have meanings similar to agreeing. I need to first consider how I’m using the word before I can decide on an appropriate synonym or if I even want to use one of these synonyms. For example, if I am referring to “concurrent sessions at an academic conference,” concurrent means “happening at the same time,” and therefore has a meaning closer to simultaneous. I would want to avoid all words in this list that don’t mean happening at the same time, which means that most of these synonyms would not actually work in my sentence. Be cautious when choosing a synonym to replace a word and always make sure to look up the synonym to ensure that it has the appropriate meaning for the context of the sentence.
Visual: The screen changes to show the following slide with a picture of a page in a dictionary: Dictionary and Thesaurus
- Helpful tools
- Use cautiously and purposefully
Audio: Dictionaries and thesauruses can be helpful tools in academic writing. Just remember to use them cautiously and purposefully for more information about a word.
Visual: The screen changes to end with the words “Walden University Writing Center” and “Questions? E-mail [email protected].”