5 Ways to Choose the Right Word (Without a Thesaurus!)

5 Key Ways to Choose the Right Word (Without a Thesaurus!)

Figuring out how to choose the right word is probably only the second most difficult writing trait to master (right after ideas). Your word choice is a crucial part of your writing that directly correlates with your readers’ reactions to your content.

Sure, you could have a spectacular idea, but without the appropriate words, you’re not going to strike your audience. So what exactly can you do to polish your word choice and boost the quality of your content? Hint: You’re not going to need a thesaurus for this.

1. Identify Weak and Repetitive Phrases

The very first step in the process is pinpointing which phrases you want to change, although it’s sometimes difficult to narrow down the words that need a makeover. For simplicity, focus on marking words that you use too often, that weigh down your sentence, or that just feel awkward.

How can you identify these phrases?

1. Read your draft out loud. This helps you hear the inconsistencies rather than just seeing them.

2. Look specifically for weak phrases you suspect you’re using, such as stuff, things, got, suddenly, it, etc.

3. Use CTRL+F in your document to see how often you use specific words, and consider highlighting a few for modification.

2. Brainstorm Alternatives

Brainstorming fresh ideas for stronger and less repetitive phrases doesn’t always have to come down to flipping through the thesaurus. Instead, keep a notepad with you and write down interesting words when you come across them, such as while reading or in everyday conversation. Once you’re ready to edit your draft, you’ll already have some alternatives prepared.

Another great idea for brainstorming is to completely remove the word from your sentence, leaving a visual blank in your document. Reread the sentence without it, then decide what might make sense to fill in the blank.

3. Aim for an Emotional Response

Now that you have a list of ideas, it’s time to pick out the strongest alternative. Your focus here is to decide on the word or phrase that will elicit the desired emotional response from your readers. What are you really trying to say? Even a word that seems strong might not be the best choice within your content.


I look at him, unable to tear my gaze from his face.

“Look” isn’t the best word in this sentence. If I choose the word “glare,” the readers become more in tune with the emotion of the piece, which in this case sets an angry tone. Perhaps the man in this sentence has done something wrong.

I glare at him, unable to tear my gaze from his face.

Of course, if I choose a positive alternative, such as “gawk,” the emotion completely shifts to one of amazement. Perhaps the man is good-looking!

I gawk at him, unable to tear my gaze from his face.

Although the words are all similar, the entire tone of the work has been transformed, simply because we focused on how our choices will emotionally affect the reader. Make sure you don’t sacrifice your message for the sake of stronger words.

4. Get Specific

One simple way to polish your word choice is to get down to the specifics. For example, if you find yourself using the word “soda” too much, you can make a quick fix by letting your reader know what kind of soda.


Anna sipped on her soda.


Anna sipped on her Pepsi.

It’s a slight change that can paint a clear picture while avoiding repetition.

5. Don’t Settle

I understand how this goes. You wrack your brain until you don’t believe there’s an alternative, so you settle on your initial idea. Settling on a phrase because you can’t come up with a better one is not going to push your writing any further. Instead, mark the phrase and come back to it later. This gives you time to search for inspiration and clear your mind so you’ll have a better alternative once you return.

This is not to say that you should never use a thesaurus again, but as much as writers glorify a great thesaurus, it’s not always the solution.

Tell me your opinion: What do you do to improve your word choices?

5 Ways to Choose the Right Word (Without a Thesaurus!)

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About Alicia Rades | @AliciaRades

Alicia Rades is freelance writer, blogger, and editor. When inspiration strikes, she is also an author. Alicia has a short ebook, a poetry collection, and a novella under her belt and is thrilled with the release of her first full-length novel Fire in Frost.


  1. K.M. Weiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Alicia!

  2. Good advice, Alicia. I often find myself replacing words simply because I know my character would never use the one I chose first. I still go to my thesaurus on occasion, though, simply because my brain often doesn’t work fast enough to retrieve the word I’m looking for.

    • I’m certainly not dissing the thesaurus. I think it’s great, but it’s not always the best way to spark creativity. I think stepping back from your sentence for a while and returning it later is often a better way to convey your message. Thanks for sharing!

  3. When I’m stumped, I actually like to use Visuwords visual thesaurus. But, then, I have brain freezes and just cannot think of THE right word, so it helps open my brain back up! 🙂 Not the ideal, necessarily, but it’s what works for me. 😉

  4. Great advice, Alicia. I’ve now got a “favorite words” list I check as part of my editing process. Ugh…I hate it when I get repetitive. Or redundant. 🙂

  5. I’ve just discovered this blog and I adore it. It gives so many great ideas.

    I never use a thesaurus or a dictinary when I write. I have this strange idea that if a word doesn’t come to me naturally, then it’s not the right word. But I always take note of new words when I read.

    This said, there are lots of words that I use too much in my writing and I know that. I don’t bother while I write the first drats, I just get the story down. Then, when I polish, I usually do what you suggest: take the undesired word off and reword the sentence without using that word.
    It normally works. At least for me 🙂

  6. This is some very valuable advice! Word choice is SO important- the classic authors can have their every paragraph and sentence dissected for meaning and relevance. The “control F” trick was new to me so thanks! That will be invaluable to me during edits!

  7. Asisha Joseph says

    I’m having trouble with the word ‘laugh’. My characters laugh too much. I tried synonyms like grin, chuckle, smile etc. but the whole thing ends up looking cheesy. I suppose it isn’t necessary to mention that a person X smiled when Y made a joke?

  8. @Alicia
    This was a really different kind of post. The ‘Look’, ‘Glare’, ‘Gawk’ example, though quite simple, was awesome. You carved a way in this post for new writers. At times the budding writers are unable to realize why their posts remain ordinary and do not match those by experts. Appropriate choice of words plays a role. Looking forward to more articles from you.
    Thanks so much.

  9. It’s 2018 now and I am still reading this post. So nice writing and thanks for sharing this wonderful post. I am going to sharing this with my friends.


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