Tools of the Trade: Writing

By Ron Fritze

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Students periodically ask me for advice about succeeding in college.  I have a lot of advice but on this occasion I want to focus on one key piece of advice.  We live in a world where technology is touted as the end of education.  That is not true, technology is a tool, it is means to gain an education.  The end in education for a student is learning.  Sure it is a big help if you have a laptop to assist with your studies.  Blackboard and similar learning management systems are great tools.  But the bottom line is this—a person needs to want to learn.  And learning means work.  Besides the high tech tools, there are also some tried and true low tech tools that will help you to improve your writing.  But You have to take the time to use them.

I think that every student should own a dictionary and a thesaurus.  That is my advice.  These are essential tools for any student learning to write and any active writer as well.  Some might suggest that you can put an electronic dictionary on your hard drive.  I have one of those, I never use it.  Why?  Because it is just as easy or easier for me to pick up a dictionary and find what I need to know.  Keep in mind, dictionaries and thesauruses are databases.  They are among the original databases.  They are searchable.  Remember, everything is listed in alphabetical order.  Dictionaries list words alphabetically and give you definitions for what the word means.  Many words have multiple meanings.  So when you encounter a word that you don’t know, look it up.  You’ll learn a new word.  A thesaurus is a list of words that provides groups of synonyms and related concepts for that word.  It is a great way to vary your word usage in your writings but I plan to talk about thesauruses in more detail in a later blog.

For now, let’s talk about dictionaries.  There are lots of good ones.  You can get a pocket dictionary that is easy to carry about but for the place where you study, get a full-sized dictionary that has about 250,000 to 300,000 words listed.  Pocket dictionaries usually only list about 60,000 words.  American Heritage and Merriam Webster’s are both good brands of dictionaries as is Oxford (if you get the American versions).  Remember, though, just because it says Webster’s that is not a sign of quality, Webster’s is not a registered trademark.  Any schlock operator can use it in a title.

Some might not agree with my advice but I am here to debate if need be.  I’ll see you on the blog.  Meanwhile, if you have a favorite dictionary let us all know on the blog.  If you have a favorite word to share, let us all know too.  I just discovered a new one while preparing this blog—theomachy.  Anybody know what is means?