This hilarious video is making the rounds on the Internet (my niece’s husband shared it with me on Facebook) just in time for many college application essay deadlines.
It’s funny because the outrageous statements made by students are painfully true.
Another favorite was: “I’m using words I literally just learned a minute ago on Thesaurus.com.”
I thought I would take this opportunity to offer my two cents on the value the thesaurus.
It’s common for writing instructors to admonish students who use them.
I disagree. I believe it depends how they are used. In fact, I love the thesaurus and use it all the time.
I believe the main reason English teachers and other writing “experts” advise against using them at all is the temptation to try to find words that sound impressive.
Especially for students who feel the need to try to find long, smart-sounding SAT-type words to beef up their college app essays. Plethora. Cacophony. Obsequious. These experts are totally right.
Don’t do that! (If you wouldn’t use a word in your everyday speech, don’t force it into an essay.)
However, you often can use the thesaurus to help find the right or better word, or one that has more punch. I often look up verbs to try to find words that more accurately describe an action.
Such as, instead of saying he “hit” the stranger, I could use “slugged” or “pummeled” or “smacked” or “swatted.” See how each of those has a slightly different connotation?
You can then pick the one that is closest to what you want to say.
I also love to use the thesaurus when I’m writing about a specific topic and I want to find other ways to say the same thing.
In that case, I will look up the word and collect a short list of synonyms that I can fall back on once I’ve used my main word too many times.
I also like using a thesaurus in the brainstorming process of helping students identify their defining qualities for personal statement essays, and zero in on descriptors that are more specific to their personalities or character.
The more specific your defining quality, the more focused your essay will be.
For example, instead of a defining quality of “determined,” you can sort through a whole long list of synonyms to see if there is one that is a more precise fit: single-minded, obsessive, resolute, purposeful, purposive, adamant, single-minded, unswerving, unwavering, undaunted, intent, insistent; steadfast, staunch, stalwart; persevering, persistent, indefatigable, tenacious; strong-minded, strong-willed, unshakable, steely, four-square, dedicated, committed; stubborn, dogged, obstinate, inflexible, intransigent, unyielding, immovable.
I’m not advising you look up words on the thesaurus as you write.
In fact, I think it’s best to pound out your rough draft using the best words that come to mind as you type, and then use the thesaurus (if you want) when you go back and re-read and make changes to improve it (called self-editing, which is what real writing is all about.)
My point is that the thesaurus is just another writing tool.
It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s value is how you use it.
Sparingly and wisely works best.
Need more help on how to write your essay? Check out How to Write Your College App Essay in 3 Steps!
Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a Comment. Love hearing from you all!!