A. Here’s the problem:
When you’re drafting a paper, you’re simultaneously trying to decide what to say and find the right words. As a result, you are often unconscious of the fact that you’ve relied far too often on a single word, often one that’s rather too general to convey much specific meaning. Alas, when I read a passage that overuses a single word, the act of reading numbs my mind and certainly makes a less favorable impression on my grading lobe.
B. What to do:
Rethink the meaning of the passage in question. The simplest way is to replace the excessive uses of one word by substituting others. The danger is that the passage winds up sounding like a thesaurus exercise. A better method is to rewrite the sentences in question using more specific words, perhaps making the passage more economical as well as less repetitive.
C. Example: Lady Catherine enforces the rules of society when she is worried about her own social safety. Austen, by showing all of these, is saying that powerful people use society to their own benefit, and that individual people force others into complying with society more than society itself. Thus society proves to be all-powerful.
Improved Version: Lady Catherine snobbishly abuses social customs and rules of etiquette to maintain her own sense of superiority. Austen’s point is that some prominent people misuse their power selfishly, using their position to intimidate others and force them to comply to socially-prescribed behaviors for the wrong reasons.
D. Now you try—write an improved version of the following passage.
1. In comparison with the other female characters in the novel, Elizabeth’s character has a more independent personality and demonstrates a more modern outlook on life. Elizabeth is like no other woman in the book because she demonstrates a great strength of independence and individualism.
One of Elizabeth’s most noticeable features is her need for independence. Elizabeth’s independence is what some characters find to be most disgraceful and what others find to be very attractive. A perfect scene that shows the difference of opinion about her independence is the scene where Elizabeth goes to visit her ill sister.
E. For more information or additional practice, check the following source:
Ken Macrorie, Writing to be Read (3rd ed.) pp. 75-79 is my favorite on this topic.