Using synonyms effectively

When engaged with your academic writing, your first objective is to get those ideas down on paper. This is the creative phase where your main focus is on producing content that satisfies the objectives of your assignment brief or research proposal. Whether the content needs to shine at this point depends on the author. Some believe that content should be polished as you go, but most authors prefer to get the ideas down on paper first, and then later focus on enhancing the content to make it more scholarly and engaging.

Proofreading your content

Using synonyms for increased variety in your text

Once your paper has taken shape, it is time to review your content. This means considering your essay or chapter initially from a content perspective:

  • Does my content answer the assignment brief?
  • Have I engaged critically with the discussion?
  • Is my structure appropriate?
  • Is my writing style engaging?
  • Do I use some words and expressions repeatedly?

These last two questions relate to your writing style, and whether the final reader of your document will be inspired by the manner in which you have presented your content. As a proofreader of hundreds of academic assignments and papers, there is nothing more disappointing than to see the same vocabulary and expressions repeated ad infinitum:

It has been asserted that …….. ; Alfinch (2004) also asserts that ……. ; The author asserts that ….


It is interesting to note that …… ; Another interesting finding is …….. ; The author was interested to discover that ….

One solution to keeping the reader connected with your writing is by using synonyms, synonymous expressions and greater lexical variety.

Using synonyms gives your writing more depth and colour

There are several strategies you can develop to improve your use of synonyms when proofreading your content. These include:

  • Building word webs from your wider reading and keeping these to hand when you proofread.
  • Extending your lexical fields through the use of paper-based thesauri or an online version.
  • Using the right-click option on word processing applications such as MS Word to present suggestions for using synonyms.

Nevertheless, care must be taken to consider the definitions of synonyms as the Collins online thesaurus offers the alternatives for ‘many‘ as: numerous, various, varied, countless, abundant, myriad, innumerable, sundry, copious, manifold, umpteen (informal), profuse, multifarious, multitudinous and multifold. Clearly an adjective such as various would appear much lower on the cline of frequency than countless: E.g. There are various (25) musicians playing at the concert; whereas there are countless (1,000+) restaurants in London.

Some suggestions for direct synonyms

important: vital/essential/fundamental/crucial

a lot: considerable/numerous/a large number of

useful: beneficial/helpful/supportive

assert: believe/present/claim/propose

check (verb): revise/review/appraise

study (noun): research/investigation/inquiry

Hopefully this post has offered some useful suggestions and strategies for using synonyms more effectively. Of course, writing is a developmental process, and as you become more accomplished as an author, be that native speaking or non-native English, your range and understanding of the meaning and suitability of synonyms will increase and be reflected in your writing. Good luck!