Right-click on any word in an MS Word document and you’ll open a context menu full of actions related to that word. Synonyms is one of those options. While writers might use a thesaurus of synonyms to liven up their writing, editors can use synonyms to avoid repetition, surely, and also to find more familiar or contemporary terms. But the way a thesaurus can really help an editor is by using it to figure out what the writer might have meant.
Right-click on a word that doesn’t seem to make sense in context, and you can open up a list of synonyms that give clues as to the writer’s intent. This is particularly useful when editing work by a writer for whom English is an additional language, not their first or the primary one; or when editing for a different sort of English than the writer knows. For example, editing for American English with an Australian writer.
Thesauruses and bilingual dictionaries can lead a writer astray, prompting them to use a word that is right in some contexts, but not in this one. For example, writing intent where focus makes more sense. In some contexts, either intent or focus works, but in other contexts one is obviously wrong to the native reader. (Intent in the previous paragraph, for example, really could not say focus since the “intent” is meaning in that case.)
In addition to the synonyms available by right-clicking on a word, MS Word offers a complete thesaurus. Find it on the Review tab of the ribbon or at the bottom of the context menu. Launch the thesaurus, and you gain access to synonyms grouped by meaning and part of language (i.e., noun vs adjective). You’ll notice in the image that the suggestions are not identical.
Once the full thesaurus is launched, type words into the search field to look them up.
Changing the Language Choice
At the bottom of the thesaurus pane, the language setting is displayed. To search a different language, such as UK English instead of US, change the (proofing) language of the document then launch the thesaurus again.
Make It So
To change a word in the document to an option in the synonyms, simply click on the word in the context menu. The format, capitalization, and such will match that of the document when the word is pasted into place.
From the thesaurus panel, right-click the desired word and select either to copy it or to insert it. Note that inserting will add the word to the document rather than replacing a word.