5 Simple Ways to Expand Your Vocabulary


Along with proper grammar and proper in text citations, when writing an essay it is important to say your points in a clear and direct way—and of course to try to sound smart doing it!

While using a diverse and intelligent sounding vocabulary to write academic essays is an important skill in writing, often students fall into the trap of inappropriately using obscure or specific vocabulary words. Words have specific meanings—and it is obvious when students use words in their papers without understanding their definitions, and most importantly, in the improper  context. That is no reason to be afraid of using a new word outside of your normal vocabulary in a paper!

Expanding your vocabulary doesn’t have to be a boring or nerve-wracking process. It can be quite fun to play around with new words and expand your range.

Here are 5 tips on how you can expand your vocabulary and make sure you use words correctly in your writing.

  1.     Read

Read. Read. And then read some more! When it comes to expanding your vocabulary and trying to use different words in your writing, it is hard to truly master new words unless you encounter them. Reading different material—from online gossip columns to Shakespeare—will help you to actually see new words. Don’t feel that you need to exclusively read classic literature to find interesting words though! It is most important to read from a wide variety of materials, to find a wider variety of words. From there it is easy to look up words you don’t know, and store them away in your vocabulary toolbox for later use.

Reading content, whether it is online, in a magazine, or in a book, will also help you to learn new words in their context. One of the biggest issues that students face when using new words in writing, is using a word improperly. Most often, words outside of your normal vocabulary aren’t used often, because they have very specific definitions, and are used in specific ways in a sentence. When using a new word it is important to understand the literal definition, and get a feel for how it is used in proper context. Otherwise, using a new word can sound clunky.

  1.     Search online for synonyms

If you find that you are using the same word too often in an essay, or you want to think of a better way to phrase an idea, it always helps to search online for a synonym. Most search engines will generate a list of synonyms, along with the definition, of any word or phrase that you search. You can also browse around online dictionaries to find new words and their closely related synonyms .

  1.     Check out books and articles in your field

If you are writing an essay on a specific subject matter or within a specific field, it will help you to expand your vocabulary to include jargon phrases from that field. You can easily seek out new words from within your subject area as you conduct research for your paper! If you are referring to secondary sources at all, take note of what words the authors of books and scholarly articles in the subject area use. Often, within academic fields or subjects, writers use jargon that is easy to mimic. If you can pick up the jargon of your field, you will sound more knowledgeable to your reader!

  1.     Always look up a new word before using it

As mentioned earlier, the biggest challenge students face with their word choice in papers is selecting a word that is close to what they mean, but doesn’t actually mean what they want to say.

For example: a student writing a proposal paper might want to say that their plan is specific, and chooses to describe it as “a concise plan.”

This might now sound wrong, but the word “concise” actually means brief, not specific. A better word would be specific, or concrete. Simply searching for the word online to read a definition will help prevent such a mistake.

  1.     Be adventurous

As with most elements of writing, it is important to have fun, and take chances to improve. As you grow as a writer, it can be fun to move a bit outside of your comfort zone to use new words that you haven’t used before in your writing. Be adventurous and have fun with your word choice. Often, playful word use can make your writing stand out!

Although expanding your vocabulary might seem like a challenging task you can do it quite easily. You might not have the same mastery over the English language as a dictionary writer, but after going through the tips on this list, you should be able to feel more comfortable seeking out new words to incorporate into your writing.

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