25 Ways to Improve Your Writing Vocabulary

learn new vocabulary
A great vocabulary is just one essential tool in a writer’s toolbox, along with punctuation, grammar, and many others. Vocabulary can make your writing more powerful and more effective and help you say exactly what you mean. This indispensable tool will help you choose the best word for every job and avoid vague words that do not give your readers a good sense of your meaning.

Building your vocabulary is one of the easiest ways to improve the power of your writing and make any writing task that much easier, as you will have several synonyms in your repertoire to pull from every time. Developing your vocabulary need not be difficult or painful. Here are 25 ways you can improve your writing vocabulary every day.

Use New Words

Use a word immediately after you learn it. Try to make a game out of using a new word as soon as you learn it. Every day, try to slip in a new word into the conversation, a journal entry, an assignment or an email to a friend. Do this as often as possible, and repeat the word to yourself.

Read Every Day

Once you’re out of school, word drills and assigned reading become things of the past. While these were tools for building your vocabulary repertoire while you were young, it doesn’t mean you should abandon reading. Try to read a well-written and edited essay, magazine article, book or news article every day. Nonfiction and technical books will quickly teach you new ways to think and speak with words you may be unfamiliar with, but any type of reading will help you along.

Learn Roots

Learn the roots of words. Most words in the English language are built from a common root, prefix, and suffix, usually with an origin in the Greek or Latin language. Once you learn a root, you’ll begin to understand more words that use the same root. For example, -duc- (Latin root word) means to lead or to make, such as in the words produce or deduce.

Use a Thesaurus

Keep a thesaurus handy. As you write, keep a thesaurus handy and use it when you find yourself using a word too often, or using a word that you know doesn’t quite convey the right meaning. This will help you better express yourself, and you’ll also learn a new word in the process.

Develop Practical Vocabulary

This means you should start by learning words that express what’s important to you for the task at hand. A good example of this is learning trade language or words you use often in a hobby or vocation. Rather than immediately turning to cliches or jargon that’s tossed around, look for clearer words to express to peers what you’re writing about.

Learn New Words Every Day

To improve your vocabulary quickly, make an effort to learn at least one new word every single day. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as a Word of the Day calendar or email list, or simply picking a word from a thesaurus or dictionary.

Look up Words You Don’t Know

How often do you come across words that are unfamiliar as you read? Don’t just gloss over them; take the time to look them up, and if you don’t have the time right then, write them down and look them up later.

Keep a Journal

Journaling won’t just help you develop your writing style, it will also help you improve your vocabulary. Try to use new or interesting words you’ve learned recently into a journal entry for the day or the week.

Identify Empty Words

You’re probably familiar with empty words in your speech (such as “uh” or “um”), but your writing probably has empty words as well. Look for these empty words in your writing that do not offer any substance to your reader and replace them with something more appropriate. The same principle applies to phrases and sentences, so make sure that you haven’t used six or seven phrases to say something that could be better communicated in one sentence filled with carefully-chosen words.

Diversify Your Reading List

If you tend to read the same sort of things day in and day out, you may not be exposing yourself to a wide enough range of vocabulary. Diversify the topics you read to include natural science, Shakespeare, contemporary literature, politics, history, philosophy or any other topics you think you may enjoy.

Do Word Puzzles

Word puzzles in the newspaper or a magazine aren’t just a fun way to fill time, they’re also perfect for boosting your working vocabulary. Crossword puzzles are a challenge that get your brain working hard to search your memory for words you do know but don’t use, and this can help you move words from your memory banks into your working set of vocabulary which will come across in your writing.

Try Word Board Games

There are plenty of word games on the market designed to improve vocabulary and language skills without being a bore. Some of these games you may have played as a child, so it’s time to break them out again and get to “work.” If you have a friend who could also use some help — or someone with a great vocabulary you think will challenge you — invite them over for a game night.

Practice New Words in Divergent Ways

It takes between 10 and 20 repetitions to make a new word a part of your vocabulary. To help the word settle into your mind and memory, write it down (both the definition and a sentence you make up using the word), use it in conversation, include it in an email or any other way you can think of.

Make up Associations

Start by saying the new word aloud, then relate it to a word you already know. A good example of this is gargantuan, which means “very large” or “gigantic.” Say a sequence aloud: small, medium, large, very large, gargantuan. Then list things you think are gargantuan.

Use Mnemonics

Mnemonic techniques are memory tricks you can use to remember new words. You may remember a word by sounding it out and thinking of a funny sentence that matches the meaning, such as turning egregious (extremely bad) into “Don’t let that smelly rotten egg reach us!”

Visualize New Words

Research shows that visualization is a great way to remember new words and their meanings. A good example of this is the word stratovolcano, which is a high, pointed mountain with a violent explosion. One way to remember this meaning is the fact that the prefix “strato” sounds like “straight-oh,” which may make you think of a straight ruler or a “straight-o-volcano,” which describes the word’s definition.

Make Your Own Vocabulary Tests

Keep a list of the new words you learn each week and incorporate into writing and conversation. At the end of each week, make yourself a quiz using the words to cement them in your memory.

Make Synonym Word Lists

Do you find yourself turning to the same word again and again in your writing? Grab a piece of paper and write it at the top. Next, brainstorm or use a thesaurus to generate a list of ten to twenty new words you can use instead. You can keep these lists in a vocabulary notebook and add to them whenever you learn a new synonym.

Take a Writing Course

There are plenty of online courses as well as in-person classes you can attend to boost your writing vocabulary and learn how to use new words correctly. Try to find a self-paced course that uses assignments and quizzes to hep you increase fluency and brush up on your writing skills. Some classes are aimed at essay writing or creative writing, so you can find a class that will help you improve the style you need the most help with.

Edit Your Own Writing

After you finish writing, be your own editor and go though the piece with a fine-toothed comb to identify overused and nondescript words with something more precise or colorful. Editing is an important process for spotting writing errors, but it’s also great for improving the tone, style, and clarity of your writing. It might help to read the sentences aloud, then note any lack of precision. Search through your memory for more descriptive words, or consult a thesaurus if you need to.

As you replace words, remember that using a large number of complex words won’t necessarily clarify the meaning, and it may just make your writing more pompous. Ask yourself, “Do I know a better word to use instead?” You may replace “use” with “acquire” or “obtain,” or “do” with “perform.”

Move Words from Comprehensive to Expressive Vocabulary

You actually have two types of vocabulary: one is a much larger set of words you understand, even if only vaguely, and the other is a smaller set of words you actually use to express yourself. Moving words from your comprehensive, but passive vocabulary, to your active, expressive vocabulary is easier than you think. To do this, you’ll need to know how to define, pronounce and spell the words. Say them out loud and use them at every opportunity to move them into your active set.

Ask for Feedback

Do you think your writing could use some help? If you’re struggling with your written vocabulary, try asking someone else for help. A second set of eyes can offer a great deal of insight and spot problems you may not notice yourself, including poor word choice. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend, teacher, co-worker or someone online to review your writing for feedback on your vocabulary.

Carry a Dictionary and Thesaurus with You

How often do you find yourself with free time and nothing to do? Carry a pocket thesaurus or dictionary with you and you’ll find time to beef up your vocabulary while you’re waiting for an appointment, commuting to work or waiting for a bus. Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, read a page or two and learn a new word to add to your writing. It’s also a great idea to look up obscure words you don’t quite grasp that come to you on the fly as you go about your day. You can also use the dictionary or thesaurus to look up unfamiliar words you come across in your daily life.

Use College Preparation Tests

College prep tests that use SAT and ACT-type words are a great way to take your writing to the next level. This form of advanced study will challenge your mind and give you a new set of words to use that are practical and offer your writing the clarity it needs. You’ll also get the chance to brush up on the most important Latin and Greek roots and get a new set of words with activities to help move them into your active vocabulary set.

Play Games

There are tons of non-board games that will help you improve your writing vocabulary while you have fun. Try downloading fun word games onto your phone or computer so you can get some practice while you unwind after a busy day. Some games are designed to build vocabulary skills, but there are plenty of others that will help you practice spelling, phonics, and even typing skills. There are even some designed for college students to prepare for testing and vocabulary-rich exams.

Hopefully, this list has given you an excellent place to start to build your vocabulary a bit at a time. If you think about it, there are opportunities all around you to develop this important skill, so spend time every day reading and listening to take in new words and then develop a system to incorporate these new words in your writing and speech. Before long, you’ll find your vocabulary has grown to a new level and your writing has gained the clarity you need with an ease you didn’t think possible.

Author Bio: Jovell Alingod is a Project Manager for eReflect – maker of Ultimate Vocabulary, a software for vocabulary improvement with tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.

(Image courtesy of Michael Coghlan)

36 comments

  1. One of the way to improve your vocabulary is to take up a vocab challenge.

    Having a good vocabulary is more than knowing a large number of words. It is ability to choose words with greater precision and at the appropriate time.

    1. Any type the word challenge to increase vocabulary is a great way to do this. I personally like to find five new words in the dictionary each day that I didn’t know the meaning to before them. I don’t always remember them all, but I do remember some and this helps me build my vocabulary.

    2. Knowing when to use a word appropriately is far more important to knowing what a word means. It’s like all the students who study English and know the definition of the words, but can’t speak English. it’s the same thing here.

  2. Linguistically there are two techniques for improving your lexical strength (vocabulary) :

    Active learning and Passive learning

    1. Passive learning: New words are acquired subconsciously, while doing some daily life stuff, like reading a newspaper.

    Vocabulary is an abstract skill due to reasons like reading habits, family background, schooling, culture etc. The conventional methods are very generic and are made of masses. They do not allow personalised learning to an individual’s current vocabulary.

    2. Active learning: Active learning methodology has become a preferred way to change the traditional teacher oriented classroom into the newer student oriented approach to learning. In active learning, acquisition of new words is done with conscious and great efforts.

    Usually active vocabulary building is quite rigorous and boring due to its monotonous nature.

    1. Thank you for this informative reply. I have never considered it in this way, but it makes a lot of sense. Active learning has always been tedious for me, but I really enjoy reading books, and this has helped improve my vocabulary greatly compared to my classmates. While I know I should spend more time actively learning new words, I feel a lot better knowing I’m subconsciously learning new ones everytime I pick up a book.

  3. Reading is good “Passive” way of improving vocabulary, but when you are resorting to making lists, that is “Active” method. Problem with active method of learning words is that it is cumbersome and boring, and you doing retain and unless you use it in writing sentences to apply the word, very little chance is that you increase your lexical size.

    1. I think it’s important to do both passive and active vocabulary learning. It’s true that you are going to have to figure out a way to make active learning interesting so that you can continue to do it long term, but there are ways to do that. I love getting up in the morning and looking at my new word for the day calendar in trying to figure out how I will use that new word sometime during the day. If you can find an easy way to incorporate active learning into your daily life, it can be fun.

  4. I’ve been trying to find good ways to improve the writing vocabulary of my students. Techniques to improve passive vocabulary are quite well established – SRS, etc. However, the jury is still out on the best strategies to improve active/writing vocabulary.

    1. Have you found any to be effective since you left this comment? I’m looking for some good ways to improve my vocabulary and if you found some good ones, that might save me a lot of time experimenting until I found a good method. Anyone else who has had success improving their vocab is also welcome to chime in. I would love to get some good methods going.

  5. This is so important to good writing. If you aren’t improving your vocabulary on a daily basis then you aren’t improving your writing. Thanks for so great suggestions on how to keep those new words coming!

  6. This is something that many writers neglect to their own detriment. You should always be trying to improve your writing and these are some good ideas on how you can improve your vocabulary. Too many writers forget about this, and it shows in their word choices. Don’t forget to spend time improving your craft!!

    1. I agree with this. It’s important to always be trying to improve whatever craft you have chosen to pursue. If your craft has something to do with words for speaking, improving your vocabulary is something that you should spend time doing. But this isn’t limited to just vocabulary. You should be trying to improve other areas of your craft as well.

  7. I try to learn at least one new word every day to improve my vocabulary. I like to read a lot, and I can usually find a word that I’m not familiar with while reading. I will look up this word so that I understand what it means and then try to use it in conversation during the next week. If I don’t find the word while reading, then I’ll just randomly open up my dictionary to find a word that I wasn’t familiar with before.

    I think this is a great habit to get into for anyone who wants to improve their vocabulary. If you do this for a while, you begin to love learning new words, and when you love doing something like this, it’s easy to build your vocabulary each and every day.

  8. I’m curious if anyone actively tries to improve their vocabulary each day. If so, how do you do it? I would like to learn tips and tricks on how to improve my vocabulary each day. I look forward to seeing your comments on how I can do this.

    1. I think it’s different for everybody. What will work for one person, won’t work for the next. Chances are you’ll need to experiment quite a bit with a variety of the different suggestions above in the article to find which works best for you. I know that I learned vocabulary very different than my friend does. She does it by rote learning using flashcards. That would drive me absolutely crazy. I like to learn new vocabulary in a more natural way. But each of those ways works for each of us.

  9. This is a pretty extensive list of ways one can improve their vocabulary. I find the best way to increase my vocabulary is to make the conscious effort to use words that I would not normally use in conversation. It takes some work to do this, but a lot of people say I have the best vocabulary of any person that they know. When you begin to learn a lot of new words, you become more articulate and are able to express yourself in ways you might not have been able to do before. I encourage everyone to give it a try.

  10. Having a big vocabulary isn’t always good, especially if you use it to try and show off like my friend. What’s the use of using words that most people won’t understand just to make yourself feel smarter than others? It’s much better to use words everyone understands so they actually know what you’re trying to say. Don’t act like a pompous jackass.

    1. That’s not having a large vocabulary — that’s simply being an ass. being able to come up with the specifically correct word for a certain situation is a wonderful thing to be able to do. It’s not for trying to show off, but just to be able to express yourself accurately.

  11. The thing that people forget is that it takes a bit of work to improve your vocabulary. It’s better to find ways that are enjoyable like reading books or a “word a day” email than trying to study them which can be boring. If you make it a game, it will be a lot more fun.

    1. I agree that it’s important to find a way to enjoy learning new vocabulary rather than trying to learn it from the list. This is why he did vocabulary in school. All they would do is give you a list of words that you had to memorize. Why can’t teachers figure out a way to make learning new words more enjoyable than just memorizing lists? It seems like it would be a simple thing to do and then students would enjoy English a lot more.

  12. What’s the very best way to learn vocabulary? There are always these lists of different ways, but nobody ever tells you the very best way. I want to know the best way to learn English vocabulary.

  13. I not only became better to write and pass examinations at the university but also to improve my colloquial English. In fact, many people do not know even their own language. I’m writing a dissertation and just now I realized that I needed to increase my vocabulary. Without it, a person can not consider himself competent. To write a thesis is important not only choose an interesting topic, but also competently and clearly put down it on paper. Without it your ideas, your thoughts will not be able to understand people and professor – will not be able to evaluate your work. Thesis – that’s what I need, what I have to do for my future. And so I do not regret my time and effort to find more information about thesis writing. I do not cease to learn and improve my skills for my studies, for my future.

  14. How do you know if you have a good vocabulary or not? Is there a standard number of words you need to know for others to identify you as having a good vocabulary? I think if there was a number of words everyone knows they needed to know, more people would try to reach that goal. As it is now, it’s difficult to know if I have an adequate vocabulary or not.

  15. I’ve been working on improving my vocabulary for the last two months. I found that it was difficult to begin, but once I started, it became much easier. I try to do most of my vocabulary improvement through a lot of reading, but I do make an effort to look up words that I’m not familiar with while I’m reading instead of just passing them over or trying to guess their meaning.

    I also try to use new words each day. For me at least, if I use the word I’m able to retain it much better. I would say over this last two months, I’ve been able to learn between one and five words a day and I’ve added well over 100 new words to my vocabulary.

  16. Does anyone visualize words to help them improve vocabulary? I started doing this a few months ago and it’s help me improve my vocab quite a bit. I’m a visual person, though, so that may be something that applies to me more than others. If you happen to be a visual person, try visualizing new words and you may be amazed at how many you are able to learn over a short period of time.

    1. I like to visualize as well, but I have never done it with vocabulary building. It may be what I’ve been missing. I’m going to give it a try and see if doing so helps me retain more words.

  17. This is something that everyone should be striving to do no matter their age. I think it’s important to teach kids at a young age how interesting words are so they can find value and love within them. Being curious about words and where they came from (and finding the perfect word for what you want to say) is a type of curiosity we’d all be better having.

  18. Why do we need to learn so many different vocabulary words in school??!!?? All I do is spend hours and hours learning new words that I’ll never use when I’m older. It seems so stupid!

    1. Knowing a large number of words will make you much more articulate in your conversations with others. Knowing words can help out in a lot of ways in life. Those hours of learning will pay off. You need to figure out a fun and entertaining way to learn those words.

  19. Before you work on new vocabulary, you should make sure you already understand the basics. There is nothing worse than someone using big words while the small words are being incorrectly used. A sure sign the person thinks big words are important, but has no idea how to use words in general.

    1. I don’t think these two things are exclusive. You can work on the basics and learn new vocabulary at the same time. It isn’t an “either / or” choice. Do both.

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