wikiHow to Use a Thesaurus

Two Methods:Book MethodComputer Method

Is the perfect word on the tip of your tongue? Did you just use the word "nice" for the fourth time in the last two flaccid paragraphs? Spice it up a little with a thesaurus and add variety and power to your writing. (Click any image to enlarge it.)

Method 1
Book Method

  1. 1
    Determine whether you have a dictionary-style thesaurus or a traditional format. A dictionary style thesaurus has an alphabetical list of words, like a dictionary, with a short list of synonyms for each one. A more traditional layout has an index that will send you to a longer, numbered entry.
  2. 2
    Find the word alphabetically, then proceed to the entry.
    • In a dictionary thesaurus, you'll find the words alphabetically in the main body of the book, followed immediately by a list of synonyms. Some terms (in the photo, the ones in SMALL CAPS) may be cross references. If you want one of these senses, look up those entries, instead.
      Image titled Thesaurus3.JPG
    • In a traditional format, use the alphabetical index at the back. That will lead you to a number.
      Image titled Thesaurus2.JPG
    • The number takes you to the entry. The reason for this extra step is to allow longer, more detailed entries. Rather than list a small selection of synonyms for each term, with a lot of duplication, there is an index to longer, numbered entries. All the words in the entry will appear in the index just once.
      Image titled Thesaurus4.JPG
  3. 3
    Select the synonym you will use. Make certain that you know what the word means and whether it suits your purposes before you use it. For instance, the entry for "intention" contains both "goal" and "raison d'ĂȘtre". Though they are both valid synonyms, they have different meanings and connotations. If you don't know that the French phrase refers to a reason for being rather than a short-term objective, consult a dictionary to find out, or select a different term.

Method 2
Computer Method

  1. 1
    Type the word into an online thesaurus or a thesaurus built into your word processor and a list of synonyms will appear. With the latter, the list of synonyms is apt to be very brief and unenlightening, but it can be a quick first place to check.


  • Be certain you know the word you will use. It may or may not fit your context.

Sources and Citations

  • If you enjoy playing in synonyms, or you would like a visual representation of word relationships try the Google gadget MapMyWord Dictionary.

Article Info

Categories: Better Writing | Homework Skills