Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus in Review – What was that word again?


A thesaurus is an indispensable tool for writers of any level. Verbose people (yours truly) need them and even more eloquent writers like Crom and Young can benefit from their use. The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus is an excellent reference tool for anyone who is looking for that … word. In previous reviews, we looked at the Roget’s Thesaurus, AHD4 Deluxe and a couple of Oxford dictionaries that also feature thesaurus fuctions.

American Writer’s Thesaurus has a unique take on thesaurus in that it is tailored to writers. Just so you know, if you are writing anything: blogs, letters, papers, books, articles – anything at all – you are a writer. You don’t have to be published or famous or elegant. This thesaurus product is helpful for anyone who puts their words and thoughts down onto some form of media.

Content and Market

In the case of Thesauri, the needs of customers vary greatly. Handmark’s version comes with the complete Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, a publication that includes 300 000 synonyms and 10 000 antonyms. For the down and dirty novel writer, these entries will help deepen context and for the essayist, will add an intellectual flare. For the blogger, it is just bloody good fun. Each entry is subsequent with usage examples and under each usage pattern, synonyms for all entries.

In the iTunes store, a reviewer contested the usage entries as ‘unimaginative, clichéed and inelegant’. Apart from spelling clichéd incorrectly, I think the author of that remark sort of lost the point. In a piece of software that has 300 000 synonyms, no author of any metal can afford to write pearly, beautiful prose that flows like the blue and prickly waters down the srping time of her childhood’s best toys (not quite sure that that is elegant, but it is definitely not clichéd). At least, The American Oxford team have added usage patterns. Without waxing poetic, they demonstrate how to use a word – what more could a purchaser want? Particularly if you are a ‘writer’, you may find that your deepest pool of knowledge comes from some sort of inner inspiration.


Navigation is simple and the GUI follows basic iPhone principles and design philosophies within its search, browse and history function. Search will open a text field and look for matches for the typed entry. Even if you completely misspell a word, it will display entries that match until the spelling error was found. Following that, is a long list of alphabetical words which eventually cut off as there simply are too many entries. While it would have been nice for Handspring to enable a user to search the entire list, at least they have an excellent browse function to cover up this oversight.

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The browse function allows general scanning of all entries which are broken up alphabetically into groups. This way, it is possible to use the software in similar fashion to randomly opening a book. I have lamented in my dictionary reviews that as useful as electronic dictionaries can be, they are not able to simulate ‘stumbling’ upon a word. The browse function is not exactly a replacement for flopping the book open to a sticky page, but it is a step in the right direction.

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History too, is easily accessible, up-to-date and saves progress even upon exiting the app. You can browse from history mode and always go back to the root rather than getting lost in a jumble of searches. In fact, search, browse and history are all well constructed to allow users to be able to return to the directory they originally started from without trouble. It is a helpful tool as you may find yourself interested to see how you happened upon a word.

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Nearly all synonyms are selectable with their own similar entries and usage patterns. Each is easily recognisable and underlined in green. To select the entry, merely tap it; the word will enlarge, ensuring that you have not selected the wrong entry. Simply tap again to enter the unique page for that word. While this selection method was lamentable in Prelude’s Oxford as there were too few selectable words within a definition, The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus approaches this search pattern beautifully.


As for problems with this app, I see two. First, word-wise mini essays as advertised by Handmark and written by the Oxford team, are about as easy to find as a puddle in the ocean. These mini essays, spread about the text are unmarked. If you happen upon one, you happen upon one – you will not be able to find it otherwise. There should an added filtration system, so that users can find pertinent words – at least as described by the Oxford team. One way to do this would be to get rid of the unneeded ‘more apps’ icon and replace it with something pertinent to the software.


My second problem is with pricing. Handmark advertise the hardcover version as priced at 40$ and that may be true, but you can find it at Amazon for 26.40$, nearly equivalently priced to the iPhone app. While, the pocketable, digital version that I am holding is much easier to tote and use in tight spaces, it is by no means a replacement for a desktop book if you really need to use a tool. There are no spaces for writing notes, no bookmarks and no extra corners to cell tape a bit of paper into the book.

The content is straight from a well-known source and is found in every version of Mac OSX Leopard, except that the Leopard version also includes the American Oxford Dictionary. Does that mean that Leopard should be sold for an extra 40$ plus the price of the dictionary? No. Apple provided this software as a benefit to Mac users and for this reason, I am hardened in my resolve that The American Writer’s Thesaurus is too dear in price.


What a great quick reference for the budding writer of any category. The blogger, novelist, ranter, essayist and the student will all benefit from the enormous database of synonyms and antonyms and if they can find them, mini-essays. The interface is golden: easy to use and features a tree-driven branching system that can always find its way back to the root. However, there is no bookmarking, the mini-essays are nearly impossible to find unless you are gifted by hellish luck and the this reference is simply too highly priced.

If bookmarking and some additional browsing options (especially to find the essays) were available, the price might justify itself, but as of now, it feels too much like a carbon-copy of the Oxford Dictionary/Thesaurus that is packed in with every OSX Leopard. With differentiation comes worth and the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus by Handmark is simply too much a copy of other texts.

As good a reference as it is, the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus gets Tapped by TouchMyApps.


App Summary
Title: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus Developer: Handmark Inc.
Price: $24.99 App Size: 0.5 mb
  • Intuitive interface
  • Great Browse System
  • Deep Tree-based search engine
  • Easy to select and navigate any word from any entry
  • Usage patterns
  • Mini-Essays
  • Very pricey
  • Needs bookmarking and other tools for finding information
  • Content is straight from OSX Leopard, why the high price?


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