Replace Overused Words
We often advise our students who are looking to quickly improve their writing, to take the simple step of replacing commonly used words. Words like very, said, look, and know are used so often and actually convey very little because of their overuse.
For example, if I was modifying something as very interesting, I am not actually providing a lot of description or letting the reader understand just how interesting I actually think the subject is. However, if I wrote that it was exceptionally interesting or remarkably interesting, I have now made myself much more clear and made it certain my audience understands that something is outstanding.
Use this list as a reference guide when learning what words to replace and what words to replace them with. You’d be surprised how much more enjoyable and understandable your writing can become from this easy first edit.
Paint a Picture
On the heels of using more specific words and less common words, we also encourage our students to paint a picture for their readers with descriptive language. Much like an artist creating a vivid scene for a viewer to behold with a sweep of his paintbrush, so too is a writer detailing a moment that her reader will imagine with the stroke of her pen. The more concrete and colorful you are, the better your audience will relate and appreciate your hard work.
Let’s look at an example of well-done descriptive writing to learn how we can do this ourselves
Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills…The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink–tipped waves were breaking into surf.
– Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
Most would agree that this a strongly written description. But what exactly makes it so powerful? Three things:
First of all, the author’s word choice boils down to descriptors, strong verbs, and specific nouns. Notice the adverbs and adjectives like “upturned”, “sandy”, “scarlet”, and “wild”: they are numerous, clear, and descriptive. The verbs are powerful and active like “breaking” and “petrified”. Lastly, the nouns are specific like “blossoms”, “billows”, and “swamp”.
Next, is the figurative language. Metaphors, similes, personification, and others are all tools that an author will yield when wanting his readers to get an even clearer image of what they are writing about. When Mitchell describes the earth as “hungry” she is using personification to make an inanimate object more powerful and real. When she uses the metaphor of comparing the house to an island in a wild red sea, we can gather that it is the only “human” creation in the middle of the wild.
Finally, the author uses imagery, which is what both of the above categories could fall under. It is all about showing, and not telling. The author does not just tell us that there are waves in the sea, instead, she shows us just what that looks like: “a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into a surf.”
Take advantage of the extra summer hours
Summer is a great time to work on writing because the commitments and demands on students are far fewer. While it is important for children to get the opportunity to rest and relax, it is also important not to let those extra summer hours go to waste (beware of the summer slide). Working on your writing during the summer provides an activity to help the mind stay active, and is more enjoyable than the drudgery of homework.
Check out some of our Summer writing courses at Oxford Tutoring like Phonics Galore, 1st – 12th grade English Language Arts, Creative Writing, and an Essay Writing Clinic. See our full summer course schedule here.
What about College Application Essays?
Most writing instructors can assist you with the grammar and sentence structure of your college application. Yet, making sure your college application essay accurately conveys who are you are to an application reader and addresses any lapses from your application, takes an expert hand. That is why we offer our Coffee, Cookies, and College nights where our college consultant, a UCI and UCLA application reader, discusses what it takes to be a competitive college applicant and how to stand out from the crowd. Learn more here.
And Those Pesky ACT and SAT essays?
We’ve got you covered there as well. Check out our SAT and ACT classes to learn how to write these difficult essays. We discuss strategies, content, and tools to complete these essays in the allotted time and achieve a top score. See the schedule here.
Although many people are intimidated by writing and do not see how they can improve upon this necessary skill, utilizing a few, simple tactics like painting a picture and replacing overly used words can easily and immediately improve your writing. Give it a try. Or post your writing to our Facebook page and we will give you our feedback.