How to Improve your Vocabulary

NewspaperHow to Improve your Vocabulary

The phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword” has many interpretations. The correct usage of words in communication can help you get your point across more effectively and improve your communication skills dramatically. In this article, I will discuss ways that you can improve your vocabulary and its affect on your every day communication, whether it be during friendly family debates or at your next big school presentation.

Key Points

  • Reading novels, the news and using the dictionary can improve your vocabulary significantly
  • A good vocabulary is essential in conversing with colleagues, friends and family
  • Always keep on the lookout for new words (industry or colleague specific) and incorporate them into your vocabulary

Improving your Vocabulary

When I first graduated college (undergraduate), I quickly found out that my tech-centric education left me with great analytical skills, but little in the way of linguistic adeptness. In today’s world, both in business and online, communication is absolutely essential. The last thing you want to do is type an important email to your boss using outdated high-school level vocabulary or jump into a debate on Facebook and accidentally use the wrong word to highlight your argument. So how do you improve your vocabulary? I had a personal coach (Kelly) to help me, but for those of you who don’t have an English graduate student as a wife, let me give you some tips.

1. Novels

One of the most important thing you can do to improve your vocabulary is to read novels. Almost as important, however, is choosing the right novel. Harry Potter, while I enjoy it, isn’t going to help me improve my vocabulary. Go with a book that is aimed towards adults, not kids. My recommendation is to go to the local book store and look through the books until you find one that interests you. You can also read the classics (Dracula; 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, etc), which are for the most part pretty good and easy to read. Reading novels also has the added bonus of giving you talking points when interviewing for a job or conversing with friends. Many phrases we use today came out of those books and having that insight not only makes you look smart, but also helps you better develop analogies to get your points across in communication.

For example, did you know that Frankenstein is not the name of the monster? It’s the name of the scientist who created the monster!

2. Newspapers/Recent News

No, I don’t mean tabloids or Cosmopolitan. I mean real news, like the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC (online), CNN (online), etc. Reading this stuff will help you two-fold.

Staying up to date on things related to your industry is key, especially in this economy. It also gives you “big picture” prospective when thinking and conversing about certain issues. For example, if there was just a big security leak at a defense contractor and you work in security, it might be good for you to know the details of how the hacker broke in, what tools they used, etc. In terms of vocabulary, you want to stay up on the latest “lingo”. If someone starts talking to you about “texting” or “twittering” you don’t want to have no idea what he or she is talking about. Words are constantly absorbed into the English language. Make sure you keep up with them.

Tip: I always have the latest news synched to my Blackberry so I can scroll through and read it when I have time. If you don’t have this luxury, try to read through the latest news online when you get a chance.

3. Dictionary

It is very important to use the dictionary when you don’t understand a word that someone uses. You don’t want to make the mistake of responding to an email because you decided to ignore a word that may be essential to the communication. Don’t be afraid to open up and look up the word, or, for further clarification, utilize Wikipedia. Using the dictionary to clarify confusing words you hear or read can improve your vocabulary dramatically. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to mimic your boss’s and client’s word choices, which can help you in conversing and communicating with them better.


Vocabulary is essential to good communication skills. Dedicate some time to reading novels, the news, and to using the dictionary, and you will see a great improvement in yourself. Not only will you forget words less in a conversation, you will also know and understand a lot more words to help you communicate with others.

Picture source: Artsjournal
Posted in Academic Advice.


  1. While I love the suggestions you have here, I’d like to add another. If you’re reading a text in which you’re likely to encounter only a few new words, then simply looking those up in the dictionary should suffice. However, if you’re reading a text that contains many words that are new to you, you can’t be expected to actually remember all of them unless you’re a little more proactive about memorizing them.

    This is why I recommend that everyone–not just students–carry around a small notebook and use it to write down new words and their definitions. I started using this technique when I realized that I was forgetting most of the words whose definitions I looked up. Usually, I’d forget not only the definitions but the words themselves, so going back to the dictionary for a refresher was useless. The great thing about having your very own “new word dictionary” is that it’s personalized, containing only the words that you have trouble with, and you can take it out and review it regularly. If you’re serious about expanding your vocabulary, keep this notebook with you and pull it out for quick review sessions while waiting for the bus, standing in line at the bank, etc. I guarantee it’ll work much better than only broadening your reading materials and using a dictionary!

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