It used to be that a writer needed a fixed base. A place to call their own. Not because they actually needed one to write in you understand. What they needed was a place to store their dictionary and thesaurus. After all, carrying a 20-volume copy of the Oxford dictionary was likely to give one a major backache or worse!
But all that has changed!
Writers are no longer tied to their desks and their bookshelves. With the advent of netbooks, tablets and laptops, the portable author can take his bookshelf with him. But even that can be cumbersome as discs go missing and need to be stored in a binder.
The presence of internet hotspots has removed even that restriction. Now the author can find an internet connection in almost any coffee shop. Usually for free.
And that means that online dictionaries are available as a writing resource even for the portable author.
There are many online dictionaries available. Of course, the major dictionaries are all online. Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Collins, Random House. All are available online. In addition, there are a number of other specialist or lesser dictionaries also available. And of course, there are dictionaries that exist solely on the internet. Even Google has a dictionary available.
Most of the online dictionaries also include connections to other related tools such as a thesaurus or an etymological dictionary. Even pronunciation aids and translation aids are available.
Using an online dictionary is very simple. The easiest method is to use Google and the search “define term” where the term is the word you wish to define. You’ll get a list of dictionaries that you can choose from. For example, if you search “define the word” you’ll get a list of definitions of the term “word”.
But for a writer, you may want to use only one dictionary.
My own preference is the Oxford dictionary (not the OED unfortunately) if I am writing for an audience outside the U.S., but Merriam-Webster for an audience within the U.S.
Whichever dictionary you chose the process is remarkably similar.
It begins by signing on to the dictionary’s website. Once there, you will normally find a search field. Enter the term you wish to search and press the search button.
Depending on the website, the result will be either a list of alternatives, a combined definition plus other references, or the default reference entry for the website, which is usually a definition.
However, most of the websites also include a menu of different resources. For example, Merriam-Webster has a Dictionary, Thesaurus, Spanish-English dictionary, and Medical Dictionary available. In this case, you can pick the most suitable lexicon.