One of the easiest ways to bolster your existing writing skills is to add new words to your written vocabulary. Compared to many other languages, English has a significant word count, which means that you’ll never run out of vocabulary to learn and use. All forms of the written word—from fiction to journalism, from essay writing to poetry—benefit from a strong vocabulary. To that end, the time you spend improving your vocabulary skills is, in reality, time invested in your writing skills.
Why Is Vocabulary Is Important for Writers?
Much like a speaking vocabulary, a writing vocabulary encompasses the words you can easily summon and use. From action words to descriptive words and beyond, a strong vocabulary facilitates precise writing and helps you avoid vague terms. As you broaden your range of vocabulary, you become better able to describe specific settings, emotions, and ideas. You also hone a skill that’s known among writers as “painting with words.”
The most valuable vocabulary words are those that you can recall and use almost automatically. After all, learning vocabulary is only worthwhile if you can appropriately use your new words in a piece of writing and—equally important—use them correctly. If you ask a published author for writing tips, you’ll likely be told that it’s better to use common words correctly than to use complex words incorrectly. Fortunately, a key benefit of a better vocabulary is the ability to use both common and complex words with equal precision.
7 Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary
Most of us have not spent much time learning new vocabulary since we were high school or college students. Thankfully you can always pick up where you left off. Here are some tips to help you start learning new vocabulary words:
Develop a reading habit.
Vocabulary building is almost effortless when you encounter words in context. Seeing words appear in a novel or a newspaper article can be far more helpful than seeing them appear on vocabulary lists. Not only do you gain exposure to unfamiliar words, but you also see how they’re used.
Use the dictionary and thesaurus.
Online dictionaries and thesauruses are helpful resources if used properly. They can jog your memory about synonyms that would be better selections in the context of what you’re writing. A complete dictionary definition can also educate you about antonyms, root words, and related words, another way to extend your vocabulary.
Play word games.
Classic games like Scrabble and Boggle can help expand your English vocabulary, as can crossword puzzles. If you want to be efficient, follow rounds of these word games with a bit of note-taking. Keep a list of the different words you learned while playing the game, and then study that list from time to time
A quick way to build a large vocabulary is to study, words via flashcards. In today’s digital age, a wide array of smartphone apps make flashcards convenient and easy to organize. Aiming for one new word a day is reasonable. You can always go for more, but it may not be practical to attempt to assimilate dozens of English words every single day.
Subscribe to “word of the day” feeds
Some web platforms will provide you with a word a day—either on a website, an app, or via email—to help you expand your vocabulary. You can add these words to running word lists.
A mnemonic device is a form of word association that helps you remember words’ definitions and proper uses. For instance, think of the word obsequious, which means “attempting to win favor from influential people by flattery.” Break down that word into components: “obse” is the beginning of “obsessed,” “qui” sounds like the French word for “yes” (oui), and “us” is like the word “us.” So you can think of that big word obsequious as “obsessed with saying yes to us”—which is kind of what it means!
Practice using new words in conversation
It’s possible to amass a considerable vocabulary without actually knowing how to use words. You can address this issue by bringing your personal dictionary into use. If you come across an interesting word in your reading, make a point of using it in conversation. By experimenting in low-stakes situations, you can practice the art of word choice and, with a little bit of trial and error, hone in on the right word for a particular context.