How to Use a Dictionary & Why It Is Still Important

Academic work and related projects require students to do in-depth research to get good content that aligns with the topic or subject context. This, therefore, means that a writer must know the different sources to use during the research and how to use the varied sources. In this write-up, our focus is on how to use a dictionary as one of the sources when studying, doing research, or even doing homework.

Why use a dictionary in the age of internet search?

Technology advancement has taken almost everything by storm. In many instances, most activities take place from online platforms. When you have a question, you will likely find all possible answers on the internet.

Having said that, you are probably wondering why use a dictionary when you can access everything online. Why is the dictionary important when you can access the same information from books and online materials?

A dictionary has been in existence for years, and it has helped teachers, students, writers, and other professionals learn the meaning of different terms and how to use different phrases to bring out a meaningful context.

A dictionary, therefore, is important as it will help you understand the meaning of phrases and words, the synonyms of the same words, and how you can apply the words in the content after doing the research.

How to use a dictionary, and how to look up a specific word

Using a dictionary can be a tiresome and daunting task, especially when the word or phrase you are looking for is new and you can’t figure out the appropriate definition. However, consider the following steps to ensure you use a dictionary effectively:

1. Know when you need a dictionary

Before you open your dictionary, try to read the context of the words as you try t figure out the appropriate meaning. At times, you can get the meaning of a word based on the context you are reading. If possible, read the sentence again and again, then read the whole paragraph. If, at this point, you cannot figure out the appropriate meaning of the phrase, take a dictionary!

2. Choose the appropriate dictionary

Based on what you are looking for, you need to select a dictionary that will meet your needs. The different dictionaries include:

  • Bilingual dictionaries – they are for English definitions and word translations into other languages.
  • Learner dictionaries – they are simplified version dictionaries with a simplified definition of English words to help learners understand better.

3. Learn the dictionary organization

If you are using an online dictionary, simply type the word in the search bar to continue. For physical dictionaries, you can simply search the word directly following alphabetic order.

Under the word, you will see how to pronounce the word, definitions, and sample sentences for every definition.

4. Choose the correct definition

Based on the description in the dictionary a sample sentences, you can then select an appropriate definition to match with what your context is all about.

How to cite a dictionary

Like any other academic source, citation of all sources used during the research process is vital. In this section, we highlight how to cite a dictionary using APA and MLA styles.

How to cite a dictionary in MLA

When citing the dictionary from the library database, cite as follows

Last name of the author, first name, entry title, dictionary title, editors first, then last name, edition, volume number, name of publisher, publication date, pp – first – last page, database name, then permalink/URL.

When using an online dictionary, MLA citation should be as follows:

Last and first author’s names, entry title, dictionary title, publication/updated date, website name, URL, and access day, month & year

How to cite a dictionary in APA

When citing a dictionary in APA, use the format below:

Author’s name(organization), year of publication, citation words, name of the dictionary, publisher, and URL.


A dictionary is among the best academic research sources, especially when you need to define terms. Follow the guidelines above to ensure you cite your work appropriately every time you use a dictionary.

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