9 sources to help you find that perfect word

If you’re stuck for just the right term to use, these websites (and one book) will help you find the word that hits the sweet spot.

I once worked with someone who used the word “secure” continually. He’d write:

• “We need to secure donations.”
• “Have you secured a printer for the newsletter yet?”
• “I’m not feeling secure about our chances of securing this contract.”

I often found myself correcting his writing and replacing “secure” with alternatives such as “obtain,” “get,” “acquire,” “find.” But he was set on the word “secure” and would often change it back.

The importance of varying our words to keep our readers interested cannot be overstated, but it’s no easy task. How many times have you sat in front of your computer screen, grasping for that perfect word? It’s right there, on the tip of your frontal lobe, but you can’t quite get it out there. Grrrrr.

Well, here are some resources to help you find that perfect word. (Visiting these sites will make you feel like a kid in a candy store.)

1. Collins English Thesaurus

Another great online thesaurus, this site has more than 1 million synonyms and antonyms with quotations and translations to other languages.

2. Idioms at The Free Dictionary

Enter a word, and you’ll get a list of common phrases in which the word appears. This tool can help you write headlines or develop a play on words.

3. My Favorite Word

Users submit their favorite words, usually with explanations; sometimes the explanations are more fascinating than the words.

4. “Synonym Finder” by J.I. Rodale

This is an actual paper book, but it’s worth keeping on your desk. A thesaurus on steroids, it contains more than a million synonyms. Entries include slang and informal terms, along with archaic, scientific, and other specialized words.

5. Thsrs (The Shorter Thesaurus)

The Shorter Thesaurus allows you to enter long words and receive shorter synonyms. It’s especially useful if you want to simplify your writing or shorten a message for Twitter.

6. The Visual Thesaurus

The Visual Thesaurus is an online dictionary and thesaurus that creates word maps based on your entry. The maps branch to related words. Visual Thesaurus is available by subscription, but you can use the trial version to test it out.

7. WordHippo

My favorite on the list, WordHippo enables you to search for words under categories such as “rhymes with,” “sentences with,” “adverb for,” “past tense of.”

8. Wordnik

Worknik is an online dictionary that shows definitions from multiple sources, allowing you to see as many different meanings as possible. The site also lists hypernyms and hyponyms for each word; it also includes a reverse dictionary.

9. Wordsmith’s Anagram Generator

Enter a word, and it scrambles the letters into other words. Admittedly, this one is not very useful for corporate writing, but it’s fun to play with.

Ragan readers, care to recommend any other find-a-word sources?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.


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