I began reading an article by a university president about the school he leads. In the first paragraph, this is what I learned about the university:
Most of you know and appreciate what a great university this is, with a great faculty, great programs, great traditions, and a great reputation. And as great as our university has been. . . .
That university sounds pretty great, huh?
No, it sounds mediocre. The university president himself could not think of words beyond the bland and meaningless great to describe the school he leads.
I'm guessing, though, that it's not the university's fault that all the president came up with was 6 greats in 32 words. I bet the president simply didn't schedule time to write his article, and the copyeditors did not pitch in to save him.
Let's do it for him. Take a couple of minutes to fill in the blanks below, using a university you know well as your subject. You can use the word great only once if you choose to. But all the other words need to be more descriptive. Do not completely revise the passage. The point is to use different adjectives.
When you finish your description, paste it into the comments so we can compare our work.
Most of you know and appreciate what a _____ university this is, with a _____ faculty, _____ programs, _____ traditions, and a _____ reputation. And as _____ as our university has been. . . .
Does your university sound like the one I described below? It shouldn't. If we have chosen our adjectives well, we should be able to tell that we are describing two different schools.
Most of you know and appreciate what a special university this is, with a caring faculty, flexible programs, quirky traditions, and a well-earned reputation. And as exceptional as our university has been. . . .
Here's another university I considered:
Most of you know and appreciate what an extraordinary university this is, with a legendary faculty, visionary programs, cherished traditions, and a world-class reputation. And as outstanding as our university has been. . . .
To get over the problem of everything being great (and therefore ordinary), think carefully about your subject. How is it different from others in its group? Then describe what you know. Unfortunately, the university president sounded as though he did not know the university at all.
Of course, you could throw out the president's original wording, freeing yourself to create something fresh and distinctive.
Take your writing beyond great. Go a day without writing that word. I'll join you in the challenge.
Please do share your example in the comments. I look forward to reading it.