Have you ever struggled to find just the right word? Maybe the word was on the tip of your tongue; you knew what you wanted to say, but the word was just out of reach. Or maybe you know the idea you want to express, but you don't know if there's a word for that meaning. Maybe vocabulary isn't the issue at all: you know exactly what you want to say, you're just not sure how best to say it in writing.
If you’ve ever experienced any of these or similar scenarios, this article for you: here’s a list of tips, tools, and best practices for finding just the right word.
If you know the definition but not the word…Easy: just use a search engine. Type in the definition, and you’ll be surprised how often the results will tell you the world. For example, typing “word spelled the same way backwards and forwards” into Google brings up “palindromes” as the first entry.
If that doesn’t work, try using a reverse dictionary like “One Look” that allows users to search by definition.
Alternatively, don’t worry about it. If you’re in a writing groove, don’t let a single word get you stuck. Instead, use a placeholder term and mark it (highlight or bold) for later review. Often, the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon will resolve itself after some time has passed, and the word will pop into mind.
If you know part of the word…What if you can’t remember the full word “palindrome,” but you do remember that the word starts with “pal”? Use thefreedictionary.com and search by “starts with” or “ends with.”
If you know a similar word but not the exact word you want…Another easy solution: use a thesaurus. There’s no shortage of options here. Many word processors have a built-in thesaurus, but you can also go to almost any dictionary website. For example, maybe “happy” doesn’t capture the intensity of the feeling you’re trying to express, but you’re blanking on possible word choices. A thesaurus will lead you to joyous, jubilant, elated, thrilled…
If you’re worried the audience won’t know the vocabulary…If your concern is less about finding a specific word and instead you just want to ensure you’re using the best word, start by thinking about your audience. This is critical to effective writing. If you’re a scientist writing exclusively to colleagues, you can probably safely use all the technical terms you like. But if you’re writing to a lay audience, avoid jargon and vocabulary with which they may be unfamiliar, and keep statements straightforward and simple.
If you’re worried about wordiness…Keeping phrases short is key to keeping content readable. Why say “take action” when you can just say “act”? Here, you can use a grammar analysis tool to help. Whether you use a paid service like Grammarly or just the free grammar checker that comes bundled with most word processors, they’ll scan your document and highlight places where you could substitute more concise phrasing.
If you’re worried about using weak language…Often writers end up talking around the subject rather than just addressing it. There can be reasonable explanations for this, e.g., providing context for the discussion. But often it just weakens and lengthens the text unnecessarily. Here, we recommend following a few best practices:
- Use active voice instead of passive voice (“she did it” instead of “it was done”)
- Minimize adverbs, which are sometimes useful but can all too easily frequently overwhelm the text
- Delete unnecessary redundancies; there’s no need to say the same thing twice (like in this line)
- Avoid clichés, jargon, and filler words in favor of plain language
For more tips, techniques, and strategies for always finding just the right word to write, download our catalog of courses to learn how we can help your organization communicate more effectively.