I have a tendency to overuse certain words and phrases in my writing. My approach to writing is typically to get as much on a page as possible in one sitting and then go back and fix it later. This involves, among other things, not getting too hung up on using words such as “namely, moreover, that is, for example” or the like. These are my “comfort words,” those that enable me link thoughts together that would otherwise just be sprayed all over the page.
The problem, for me, is that when I go back to “fix” my prose, in terms of removing oft-repeated words, I tend to fix some things and gloss over others. It’s not the case that I decide some words are fine…it’s that I simply don’t see every word that I tend to overuse.
My dissertation director has an uncanny knack for seeing these almost immediately, at which point he will say something like, “Have you realized how often “X” occurs on this page?” He is correct nearly 100% of the time, and my writing is better because of it.
So, lately I have been trying to find ways to highlight words that may appear in a document more often than they should. To my knowledge, Word has no feature that makes this an easy process. I have begun keeping a checklist of words to go back and search for later in the editing process, and this has helped to a certain degree. However, as I am constantly replacing old “comfort words” with new ones, it is becoming difficult to keep track.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this tool, but if you’re not you should be. I have used it in the past as a means of procrastination. I realized today that it might be useful in pinpointing overused words in my documents. Simply cut and paste a block of text into the proper field, and Wordle will generate a “word cloud” that will then enable you to see which words you use most often. The larger the word in the cloud, the more often it appears. Cool, no?
I suppose this may also be useful to those who have just written something and yet have no idea what it is actually about.
Here is a cloud generated from the text of my dissertation proposal (sans bibliography). Click for larger version:
How do you cope with overused words?