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How to Make a Personal Dictionary

By Rio Ann Hessler, eHow Member

Creating a personal dictionary or glossary of terms is an easy way to learn and use unfamiliar words or words that we have difficulty learning. The internet offers a plethora of online word dictionaries and sentence dictionaries. But in order to remember the words for the long term it’s more efficient to keep your own dictionary handy. Children can benefit from designing their personal dictionary as well with the help of an adult. Use these ideas to help you create a personal dictionary for you or the children.

Difficulty: Easy


Keep track of unfamiliar words and words that are difficult to use and remember. These words may be verbs that are difficult to use or words that you or your children can’t spell correctly over and over. The words may be technical words from specialized fields such as medicine, law, finance. Write the words on a notebook or on index cards to track and to learn them.

Find the meaning of the words to create your personal dictionary. Look up the words on a paper or online dictionary and write down the meanings. Find a dictionary that provides details such as how the words function as a verb, noun and adjective. Identify and write each function for the word. For technical words use a specialized dictionary, such as a legal or medical dictionary.

Write sentences with the word once you find out the meaning. Try to keep the sentences simple using everyday language to easily associate them with the word. Create a sentence for each word function; as a verb, noun and adjective for example.

Set aside time to review your personal dictionary. Go over the words on a regular basis, such as daily in the morning or night time. Repetition will help you memorize the word meanings and usage.

Test yourself with the personal dictionary. Hide the meaning of the words and their use and try to rewrite them without looking at the dictionary notes. Once you have mastered some of the difficult words using your personal dictionary, drop them and add new words to your vocabulary.

Consider creating a personal dictionary when studying a foreign language. Use the steps outlined above to memorize the spellings and use of difficult foreign words, verbs and phrases.

Filed under: Reference Sources & their usage, ,


Using a Thesaurus

  Question: Who needs a thesaurus?
Answer: Anyone who has ever been at a loss for the right word.
A thesaurus is a dictionary of synonyms; that is, words that have similar meanings (for example: correct, accurate, exact). Sometimes it gives you antonyms (words with opposite meanings) as well.

A thesaurus helps you:

  To find the words you need to express yourself more effectively and more interestingly
  To avoid repeating the same words monotonously
  To avoid clichés (overused expressions)
  To recall the word that is on the tip of your tongue
  To find the word that suits the genre (type of writing eg: a letter), purpose, intended audience and context of what you are writing.
In different situations, the same idea might be most effectively expressed by a different word. A thesaurus helps you make the right choice.

How is it arranged?
The A-Z presentation of the modern thesaurus makes it simple to use. Look up the word you need a synonym for as if you were looking it up in a dictionary. Following the word you’ve looked up (the headword) you’ll find a range of synonyms to choose from. You’ll find these synonyms are arranged alphabetically.

Of course, there is some variation in the way different thesauruses present information, but in many you’ll see:

  A distinction drawn between the possible different meanings of your headword. For example: book could mean “publication” or “make a reservation”. These different meanings will be numbered and the synonyms for each meaning will follow. Choose the meaning that suits you, then choose from the relevant synonyms listed.
  An abbreviation showing what part of speech the word is. 
In the example of book (above), book can be a noun (a publication) or a verb (to make a reservation). You’ll need to choose a synonym that is the appropriate part of speech for your writing.
  The country where the synonym might be used. For example: bonny (listed as a synonym for “good”) is used mostly in Scotland, so it’s probably not right for you.
  An arrow might be used to direct you to related lists of synonyms elsewhere in the thesaurus.
It is important that you choose a synonym that is consistent with the style of your piece of writing.

Filed under: Reference Sources & their usage, ,


How to Use a Dictionary

Know how to look up a word. When you come across a word you don’t recognize or know the meaning of, keep a note of it. When you get around to looking it up, here is the sequence to follow:

  • Proceed to the letter of the alphabet that your word begins with. For example, “dog” begins with “d”. Don’t forget the possible spellings for trickier words, such as “gnome” begins with a “g”, or “psychology” begins with a “p”, or “knock” begins with a “k”, etc.
  • Check for the guide words. These are located in the upper corner of each page and give you an indication of how close you are to locating your word, speeding up the process of going through the pages.
  • Once close, use the second letter of your word to run down the page and locate your word. For example, if you were looking for the word “futile”, “u” is the second letter. Perhaps you will see “furrow/futtock” in the upper left corner of the left page and “futtock plate/gaberlunzie” in the upper right corner of the right page. Now you know that “futile” is going to be located on one of these two pages.
  • Scan down the list of entry words moving past “Furry” and “Fuse” and “Fuss”. Since the example word begins with “Fut”, go past all the “Fur” and all the “Fus” words alphabetically until you reach the “FUT” area of the page. In this example, move right down through “Fut” and “Futhark” and this is at last, where you will find “futile”.

Know how to make the most of your find. Once you’ve located the word, there are several useful elements that you can discover about the word from the dictionary entry. Read the information given about this entry, and depending on your dictionary, you might find many things:

  • A definition of the word.
  • One or more pronunciations. Look for a pronunciation key near the beginning of the dictionary to help you interpret the written pronunciation. Learn how to use the stress marks, as these will aid your pronunciation. The stress mark is place just prior to the syllable where the stress is placed.
  • Capitalization, where relevant.
  • Prepositions, such as “in”, “on”, etc. and their use with the word in question.
  • Irregular endings for verbs.
  • Synonyms and antonyms. You can use these in your writing, or as further clues towards the word’s meaning.
  • An etymology, derivation, or history of the word. Even if you don’t know Latin or Ancient Greek, you may find that this information helps you to remember or understand the word.
  • Examples or citations of how the word is used. Use these to add context to the meaning of the word.
  • Derived terms and inflections (I am, you are, etc).
  • Phrases or idioms associated with the word, and slang usage. In addition, the dictionary may explain whether a word is formal or informal.
  • Plurals of nouns.
  • Near neighbor words that might be related, such as “futility”.
  • Spellings in other English (US English, British English, Australian English, etc.)

Think about how the information you’ve found relates to the word as you encountered it. If there are multiple definitions, decide which one matches your source or context for the word and notice how the different definitions are related to one another. In an English dictionary, the most common meaning is usually placed first where there are multiple meanings.

  • Try using your new word in a sentence. If it’s difficult to spell, write it a few times to help yourself remember it.

Use a picture dictionary to broaden your technical or specific knowledge

Use your dictionary for other purposes than looking up a word. Many dictionaries come with an array of other useful information. Some of the information that you might find in your dictionary includes:

  • Standard letters for jobs, RSVPs, filing complaints, official writing, etc.
  • Maps and geographical information.
  • Statistics on population.
  • Weights, volume and measurements.
  • Lists of countries, cities, capitals, etc.
  • Flags of countries, states, provinces, regions, etc.
  • Lists of famous or historical people.
  • Lists of facts.

Learn how to use an online dictionary. Online dictionaries are easy. Choose a suitable free online dictionary, or a subscription one if your place of work or study subscribes, and simply type in the word you’re looking for. The search engine will return the word to you and the definition section should contain most of the elements discussed above. Note that free services may not be as comprehensive as a subscription or book dictionary, so keep this in mind when you’re not sure that you’ve found the right answer.

  • Make use of the audio content provided with online dictionaries. This can help considerably when you’re unsure how to pronounce the word.
  • To use Google to find online definitions, type: “define: futile”. The search engine will only look for definitions.

Have fun using a dictionary. The last step is the most fun – simply browse a dictionary to enlighten yourself about new words now and then. Just open the dictionary up to any page and scan the page for words that are unfamiliar or seem interesting. Pinpoint them, read the definition and try to add the new word to your thinking or talking during the next few days until it becomes a remembered part of your natural vocabulary.

  • Play the dictionary game with friends. This consists of getting some friends together and a dictionary. The first player looks up a challenging word and uses it in a sentence. The other players have to guess if the use of the word is accurate or an outright fabrication. If a player guesses correctly, it’s their turn next.
  • Another dictionary game: Each player chooses a word which should be familiar to the other players, then reads out the dictionary definition. The other players compete to guess the word as quickly as possible – perhaps even shouting out while the definition is still being read.

Filed under: Reference Sources & their usage, ,


Free Reference Resources for High School Libraries 

Basic Reference Information

I need… Try this
A short encyclopedia article on a general topic 
An almanac for quick facts
Information about words and their meanings
A translation of some words or of the contents of a website
A symbol
A picture
A quotation
Help with the correct bibliographic style
To generate a bibliographic citation for a book in APA, MLA or Turabian style

Newspaper and Magazine Articles

I need… Try this
A magazine article on a general topic 
A scholarly article on a general topic
An article from an international newspaper

Biographical Resources

I need… Try this
Information about a famous person, past or present

Literature Resources

I need… Try this
Literary criticism, an author’s biography, or an overview essay
Information about mythology
Help with the correct bibliographic style

History and Social Studies

I need… Try this
Information about a country
A map
To know what happened in the world on a particular day or year
In-depth reports about current issues
Primary sources   

A political cartoon from American history
Economic statistics


I need… Try this
A scholary article in science
A scholarly article in biomedicine 

Help with Exams

I need… Try this
Help with Regents Exams
Help with AP Exams
  • U.S. History1600 notecards, documents for the DBQs.
  • U.S. History–Take online quizzes and get your grade immediately.
  • Biology–Includes study guides, lecture notes, and links for high school, college, and virtual courses on the web.
  • Biology–Syllabus with relevant links and practice questions.
  • Chemistry–Set of study cards in pdf format.
  • Macroeconomics–Support materials from the publishers of Principles of Economics.
  • Macroeconomics–Supplementary materials created by a teacher.

Filed under: Reference Sources & their usage,


How to Use Basic Reference Sources


The Reference Collection

The reference collection is a group of non-circulating, highly used materials such as dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, bibliographies and bibliographical guides, directories, almanacs, etc. These sources often represent the most current information the library owns in a bound format.  The Rome campus library’s general reference collection, located on the main floor, houses reference books on many different subjects.  Libraries on the North Atlanta, Lawrenceville, and Riverdale campuses each have reference collections that are largely business-related.

For the most part, reference materials provide background information.   These sources answer who, what, where, when and why questions and are more useful for purposes of identification than for in-depth research. The reference section is an excellent “first place to look” when conducting research.

Like the regular collection of circulating material, the Shorter College Libraries’ reference collections are arranged by subject using the Dewey Decimal system, so works on a particular subject would begin with the same call number in reference as they would in the regular collection.  Remember, however, that the reference collections in each library are in separate sections. 

Many different types of reference materials exist. 

Dictionaries, Thesauri, and Encyclopedias

Dictionaries and thesauri can help you understand terms related to your subject. There are both general dictionaries, such as the Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary*, and specialized dictionaries that define such things as acronyms or phrases from literature and mythology. 

General encyclopedias, such as Encyclopedia Britannica*, contain a broad overview of many topics. Encyclopedias also help to identify terms, and encyclopedia articles generally end with a short bibliography of other sources for you to locate. General encyclopedias are located in call number R 031 of the Rome campus library’s reference collection. (An “R” preceding a call number denotes a reference work.)

In addition to general encyclopedias, which cover all fields of knowledge, the reference collection contains subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries, such as encyclopedias of religion and medical dictionaries. These sources are found within their subject areas, usually close to the beginning of the call numbers (numbers assigned by subject which are used to order books on the shelf) for that subject area; for instance, an art encyclopedia would be found along with other art resources in the 700s section of the reference collection.

Below you will find links to lists of dictionaries and encyclopedias on several different topics.  (Note: Often, an encyclopedic work is referred to as a “dictionary.”  This simply means that it is arranged in the style of a dictionary, that is, alphabetically).

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Bibliographies and Bibliographic Guides

Bibliographies list books that have something in common with each other.  For example, a subject bibliography might list the best books about a particular topic, such as American History.  A critical bibliography might list all the criticism written about a single author or group of authors.  Bibliographies are helpful to researchers because they gather together, in one place, materials on a single topic.  This saves them from having to track the materials down themselves.


Bibliographic guides to broad subject fields are intended to acquaint the novice researcher with the protocols of research in a particular discipline.  They list and describe important reference books, journals, and other research tools, and provide an overview of research procedures in the discipline. 

Bibliographic Guides

Other Types of Reference Sources

Directories function somewhat like phone books.  They provide names, addresses, telephone numbers, and URLs for companies or organizations.  Some also list personnel, financial or other information.  A list of directories is available here.

Statistical sources provide quantitative data about every imaginable subject.  They can be very useful in substantiating claims you make in your papers.  Good sources of statistical information can be found here.

Almanacs and fact books provide miscellaneous facts and figures, both for the present and the past.  Almanacs and fact books are listed on the News & Facts page.

Other Tutorials

Several tutorials on this site describe using reference and other information resources to perform specialized research tasks.  These are listed below.

How to Search the Internet

Filed under: Reference Sources & their usage,

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