word repetition… just find substitutes? 

The problem of word over-use often occurs when you are reporting what other people have written or told you. How, for instance, can you avoid writing ‘said’ over and over? Reading the same word several times can be extremely boring. You need to find substitutes for those pesky ‘said’s. Right?

Here’s a paragraph which could really do with some sort of word substitution help. As you see from the words in bold,  the writer uses the same dialogue tag, the verb suggest, over and over again.

Feminist research is, Lather suggests,   ‘about putting the social construction of gender at the center of one’s enquiry’ (1991:71). Reinharz (1992), suggests feminist research has three features. Firstly, it is done by people who identify themselves as feminists or as part of the women’s movement. Secondly, it is published for a feminist audience i.e. found in journals or books that only publish feminist research and thirdly, it has received validation from organisations that award feminist research. Other social scientists provide alternative definitions. Assister (1996) suggests that feminist theory is about ‘the assumption of womanhood as the founding subject of feminism’ while Stanley (1983) suggests it is simply ‘research by women’. So for some, the research has to be about women’s’ experience, for others, it is about research methodology. As Mary O’ Brien suggests, “we must not only develop a theory but develop a feminist perspective and a method of enquiry from which a theory can emerge” (1991 in Reinharz, op.cit:5).

X suggests, Y suggests, Z suggests… It would be good to get rid of all those suggests wouldn’t it? So this is when those academic word and phrase banks could come in handy – you know, those data bases of alternatives for the words that you are over-using. Typical word/phrase banks always have lots of different dialogue tags that can be used instead of said, said, said… Or suggest, suggest, suggest as in this case. How about…

Feminist research is, according to Lather,  ‘about putting the social construction of gender at the center of one’s enquiry’ (1991:71). Reinharz (1992), defines feminist research by three features. Firstly, it is done by people who identify themselves as feminists or as part of the women’s movement. Secondly, it is published for a feminist audience i.e. found in journals or books that only publish feminist research and thirdly, it has received validation from organisations that award feminist research. Other social scientists provide alternative definitions. Assister (1996) suggests that feminist theory is about ‘the assumption of womanhood as the founding subject of feminism’ while Stanley (1983) claims it is simply ‘research by women’. So for some, the research has to be about women’s’ experience, for others, it is about research methodology.  As Mary O’ Brien puts it, “we must not only develop a theory but develop a feminist perspective and a method of enquiry from which a theory can emerge” (1991 in Reinharz, op.cit:5).

Hurrah. Only one suggest. Problem solved. Thankyou word bank.

No. Fraid not. Not really. The problem is still largely the same. Let’s look at what’s going on in the paragraph. The writer is primarily summarising the words of others and adding a little commentary. Let’s see what goes with the troublesome verbs.

Feminist research is, according to Lather,  ‘about putting the social construction of gender at the center of one’s enquiry’ (1991:71). Reinharz (1992), defines feminist research by three features. Firstly, it is done by people who identify themselves as feminists or as part of the women’s movement. Secondly, it is published for a feminist audience i.e. found in journals or books that only publish feminist research and thirdly, it has received validation from organisations that award feminist research. Other social scientists provide alternative definitions. Assister (1996) suggests that feminist theory is about ‘the assumption of womanhood as the founding subject of feminism’ while Stanley (1983) claims it is simply ‘research by women’. So for some, the research has to be about women’s’ experience, for others, it is about research methodology.  As Mary O’ Brien puts it, “we must not only develop a theory but develop a feminist perspective and a method of enquiry from which a theory can emerge” (1991 in Reinharz, op.cit:5).

The problem is not the verbs, not the word ‘suggest’ per se. In the paragraph,  despite its revised verbs, we are presented with a list of She said, She said, She said, She said…

Oh I have a little list, Yes, I have A. Little. List.

Oh, I’ve got a little list, Yes I’ve got A. Little. List.

The section doesn’t really need verb variation. It needs to be revised – re-written so that the writer takes charge of the message.
The paragraph is in essence a laundry list. And it’s not really clear which of the options that are listed the writer actually prefers. What’s there is simply a report of what some people think. While a reader could perhaps intuit a latent argument being constructed in this paragraph, it is only by adding to what’s actually on the page.

Let’s get rid of the She said, She said, She said, She said.

The paragraph could go something like this…

Researchers have disagreed on definitions of feminist research. Shulamit Reinharz (1992) defined feminist research as: research done by people who identify themselves as feminists or as part of the women’s movement; research published for a feminist audience i.e. found in journals or books that only publish feminist research and research that has received validation from organisations that award feminist research. Later definitions have feminist research as  putting ‘the social construction of gender at the center of one’s enquiry’ (Lather, 1991:71); as being about ‘the assumption of womanhood as the founding subject of feminism’ ( Assister, 1996) or as ‘research by women’ ( Stanley, 1983). While for some, the research has to be about women’s’ experience, feminist research can also be understood as being about research methodology – “we must not only develop a theory but develop a feminist perspective and a method of enquiry from which a theory can emerge” (O’Brien, 1991 in Reinharz, op.cit:5).

The paragraph now has a new topic sentence (in bold) which explains that the writer is mapping ways in which feminist research is approached. The rewritten paragraph lays out a version of the debate in the field. The paragraph writer has isolated a key person in the field, Rheinharz,and categorised different views. This ‘helicopter’ mapping now creates the opening for the writer to state her own position.

As a reader I would expect that next paragraph to start with ‘This research….’  The writer will then not only opt for a position (and definition), but also support her preferred view of feminist research by referring to literatures – just not as a list.  The writer will then go on to elaborate the implications of her chosen approach for her own research.

The moral to this little example is pretty obvious. The problem of repeated words is sometimes not the repetition of the word per se, but rather the structure of the writing that produces the repetition.

So, before reaching for the  word /phrase bank, or a cheat sheet of substitute words, it is worth spending a little bit of time working out whether word repetition is really a problem of over-use or something else – something perhaps not unlike the The List, the lack of argument, and/or the absence of a topic sentence and/or the lack of a writer in charge of the text…

 

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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5 Responses to word repetition… just find substitutes? 

  1. karicalle says:

    Hey! This is a really good point. Good info!

    Like

  2. Pingback: word repetition… just find substitutes?  | patter | the neuron club

  3. raccontando says:

    Thank you! This is really helpful. I am revising one of my thesis chapters today and finding it a bit superficial – this has helped me identify why and change it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Helpful Tips for Tuesday – A Woman's Thoughts About…

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