on verbage

I was talking to a professor last week on writing and word choice, in particular when to use really dynamic verbs. “There are moments when those verbs are required,” he said, suggesting that there are moments when they are not.  How do we distinguish a non-moment from a moment?

This semester has been writing-heavy for me, which means I am always mildly displeased with my work; there are so many opportunities to fail. I have been thinking a lot of what constitutes good writing and good sentences. A question is this: What are practical things one can do throughout the writing process to write quality work?

Sometimes I will read a draft of my work and write a list of the verbs I used to see if there are ones on which I rely too frequently and to see what the general sense of action is. I also read works I like from other authors; how dynamic is their prose?

What techniques do you use when working on drafts of writing, especially if you feel stuck or uninspired?


3 thoughts to “on verbage”

  1. Erica,

    I think making a list of verbs used and determining which to sub out is a really smart way of assessing your narrative tone — I’ve never tried this particular strategy although I often run into the same issue. For my capstone project so far some favorites like “experience” and “assimilate” have been worn well beyond their means (side note: life would be so much easier if Word could analyze the frequency of repetition in word choice). I also like to draw inspiration from the works of authors I admire, especially when it comes to less formal writing. But in this context reading my writing out loud has been useful to ensure that I’m not repeating myself too often or creating prose that is needlesly dull. Because I’m approaching my project from a policy perspective, dynamic verbs are a tentative subject… How am I supposed to make the writing *good*/interesting/fun(?) without losing the necessary tone pertinent to the discipline? The answer is I have no answer and it’s hard.

  2. Keeping a running list of verbs, especially in a long term writing project, is a great idea. This semester has also been writing intensive for me (in addition to the Capstone project, I’m working to complete my Honors History thesis). One of the most important factors for me in both my capstone project and my thesis is giving readers enough “road signs” throughout the project to ensure that my argument is clear and to keep my reader engaged. Surprisingly , tone and word choice has been a large factor in accomplishing this. With academic history writing in particular, word choice is one of the road signs that I use when presenting evidence. Using really simple words such as “first” or “next” gives my readers a no-nonsense view of my evidence and argument. When it comes to verb use, I tend to keep things simple, at least for now. While repetition might be unsightly for my reader, structure is the most important factor for me at this point. Later in the process, I will have to return to my writing with highlighter and thesaurus in hand, so while my prose might not be particularity dynamic now, I’ll have enough time and foresight to tighten things up during the editing process.

  3. Erica– I think this is a great topic for you to talk about. I am blanking on your project topic, however, I do believe that if you include “too much” verbiage than your audience may get distracted by it all. In my English 325 class, one of my peers continued to use large vocab which really turned out to hurt her. As I was reading her draft, it was really hard to continue throughout the essay because I either got lost with the large words or tried to understand the context of her using that verb within a certain sentence.

    I agree with David by saying that it is a great idea for you to keep a running lists of verbs that you use. Not only will this allow you to keep track, but it will also allow you to use similar tone/language that would work well together. Overall, writing continues to be draining (especially when the semester gets to an end like this), so keeping things simple will not only help your audience read through all of your project, but also keep you sane throughout our final year here! Keep up the work.

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