When we want to improve our writing, vocabulary is often one of the first areas that springs to mind. After all, using big words is an easy way to level up your writing and make it look more ~intellectual~. As we enter this phase of assignment submissions and heavy essay writing, here are some quick tips on how to build your word bank and make your essays stand out.
1. Read widely, and often.
One of the best ways to build your vocabulary is to read, read and read. By reading a diverse range of material, you expose yourself to more words – which means you learn more! Do not just read the same types of writing – if you only read academic essays, for example, you will only gain access to the specific vocabulary used in that style of writing. Each writing style varies in its word use – so challenge yourself to learn more by reading widely! From newspapers, fiction and non-fiction books, or even online discussion threads, you’ll never run out of new things to read, or new words to learn. So get reading!
2. Google is your best friend.
What do you do if you come across words you don’t know in your reading? It can be tempting to just gloss over words that are alien to you. Don’t be afraid to use a dictionary (or just Google!) to search up unfamiliar words. No one is judging you here; you alone are in charge of building your word bank. Remember, if you’re skipping these words, you aren’t learning.
When you look up the words and their meaning, be sure to also listen to their pronunciations. If you Google the words, just click on the blue sound icon on the left of the word to hear how a word is pronounced. Learning pronunciations can help you remember these words better, especially if the word has a unique or strange pronunciation.
(example: loanwords like schadenfreude: sha-duhn-froi-duh)
3. Keep a vocabulary journal.
Learning many words at once can be daunting. To aid your learning, try keeping a vocabulary journal to jot down all the new words you come across. In your journal, you can include things like their spelling, pronunciation, definitions, variations and even example sentences. In particular, example sentences will help you remember the exact context in which the word is appropriately used.
Words with many synonyms can be confusing. It is a common mistake to assume all synonyms have the exact same meaning, or that they can always be substituted into the same contexts. However, you must be aware of the nuances of each synonym. Every word has a unique nuance that alters its meaning slightly; this means you won’t always be able to make a one-for-one substitution of words. In your journal, make sure to look up and record synonyms of new words, and remember how they may be used differently.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can try testing your memory by using apps like Quizlet. This is extra credit, of course, but if you apply all these tips together, you'll be picking up new words in a jiffy!
4. Write more.
Putting the new words you learn into practice, by writing, is the best way to make sure you internalize your learning. You can write anything – even something as casual as a diary entry will do wonders.
Make sure to try to use the words from your vocabulary journal in your writing, of course. Alternatively, you can try using new words in conversation too, but this depends on the type of word. Using words like, “apropos” (meaning appropriate) in a casual conversation might make you look like a snob, so tread lightly.
5. Edit your writing.
Writing something once, and never looking at it again, isn’t very useful. However, reviewing your work, and improving upon it, will augment your learning tenfold. Editing, and replacing words for more appropriate ones, will help you internalize and perfect the nuances and tone of your words. It’s also sure to help you make your writing clearer, as you can simultaneously try to cut down on the verbosity of your work.
This is more of a general writing tip, but it might help to also read your work aloud (no audience required). This is a great way to illuminate the errors in your writing. An added benefit of this is checking if your sentences are too long. If you find yourself unable to finish a sentence within a breath, you should probably consider whittling it down into shorter sentences.
No matter what you write, always try to go through at least two rounds of editing, to ensure your work is as lucid as possible.
6. Avoid overly flowery language
Finally, my last tip to improve your vocabulary might seem a bit counterintuitive: you must, at all costs, avoid magniloquent language.
Wait, WHAT language?
Using overly complex words is an easy way to make your writing unintelligible and unrelatable. Remember, the most important aspect of writing is clarity. Using big words may seem impressive, but if they are used inappropriately, no one will understand what you are trying to say. Do not be too obsessed with flexing your lexical prowess that you forsake coherence. Sometimes, we have to remember the age-old adage, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.
That’s it! Use these tips, and you’ll be a master wordsmith in no time..
And to all students reading, all the best for your finals / submissions!