- And also This is often redundant.
- And/or Outside of the legal world, most of the time this construction is used, it is neither necessary nor logical. Try using one word or the other.
- As to whether The single word whether will suffice.
- Basically, essentially, totally These words seldom add anything useful to a sentence. Try the sentence without them and, almost always, you will see the sentence improve.
- Being that or being as These words are a non-standard substitute for because. Because I was the youngest child, I always wore hand-me-downs.
- Considered to be Eliminate the to be and, unless it's important who's doing the considering, try to eliminate the entire phrase.
- Due to the fact that Using this phrase is a sure sign that your sentence is in trouble. Did you mean because? Due to is acceptable after a linking verb (The team's failure was due to illness among the stars.); otherwise, avoid it.
- Each and every One or the other, but not both.
- Equally as Something can be equally important or as important as, but not equally as important.
- Etc. This abbreviation often suggests a kind of laziness. It might be better to provide one more example, thereby suggesting that you could have written more, but chose not to.
- He/she is a convention created to avoid gender bias in writing, but it doesn't work very well and it becomes downright obtrusive if it appears often. Use he or she or pluralize (where appropriate) so you can avoid the problem of the gender-specific pronoun altogether.
- Firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc. Number things with first, second, third, etc. and not with these adverbial forms.
- Got Many writers regard got as an ugly word, and they have a point. If you can avoid it in writing, do so. I must begin studying right away. I have two pairs of sneakers.
- Had ought or hadn't ought. Eliminate the auxiliary had. You ought not to pester your sister that way.
- Interesting One of the least interesting words in English, the word you use to describe an ugly baby. If you show us why something is interesting, you're doing your job.
- In terms of See if you can eliminate this phrase.
- Irregardless No one word will get you in trouble with the boss faster than this one.
- Kind of or sort of. These are OK in informal situations, but in formal academic prose, substitute somewhat, rather or slightly. We were rather pleased with the results.
- Literally This word might be confused with literarily, a seldom used adverb relating to authors or scholars and their various professions. Usually, though, if you say it's "literally a jungle out there," you probably mean figuratively, but you're probably better off without either word.
- Lots or lots of In academic prose, avoid these colloquialisms when you can use many or much. Remember, when you do use these words, that lots of something countable are plural. Remember, too, that a lot of requires three words: "He spent a lot of money" (not alot of).
- Just Use only when you need it, as in just the right amount.
- Nature See if you can get rid of this word. Movies of a violent nature are probably just violent movies.
- Necessitate It's hard to imagine a situation that would necessitate the use of this word.
- Of Don't write would of, should of, could of when you mean would have, should have, could have.
- On account of Use because instead.
- Only Look out for placement. Don't write "He only kicked that ball ten yards" when you mean "He kicked that ball only ten yards."
- Orientate The new students become oriented, not orientated. The same thing applies to administrate -- we administer a project.
- Per Use according to instead. We did it per your instructions? Naah. (This word is used frequently in legal language and in technical specifications, where it seems to be necessary and acceptable.)
- Plus Don't use this word as a conjunction. Use and instead.
- Point in time Forget it! At this time or at this point or now will do the job.
- Previous as in "our previous discussion." Use earlier or nothing at all.
- So as to Usually, a simple to will do.
- Suppose to, use to. The hard "d" sound in supposed to and used to disappears in pronunciation, but it shouldn't disappear in spelling. "We used to do that" or "We were supposed to do it this way."
- The reason why is because.Deja vu all over again!
- Thru This nonstandard spelling of through should not be used in academic prose.
- 'Til Don't use this word instead of until or till, even in bad poetry.
- Try and Don't try and do something. Try to do something.
- Thusly Use thus or therefore instead.
- Utilize Don't use this word where use would suffice. (Same goes for utilization.)
- Very, really, quite (and other intensifiers) Like basically, these words seldom add anything useful. Try the sentence without them and see if it improves.
If you’re reading this, then you want to be a better writer. However, becoming a better writer is elusive, isn’t it? It’s more art than science. There are hundreds of writing rules, thousands of words to know, and millions of possible ways you could write even a simple message.
How do you become a better writer when writing itself is so complicated?
One Writing Rule to Rule Them All
In this article, we’ll discuss seven words you should avoid, but if I had to give you one piece of advice about how to become a better writer, this would be it:
“Be more specific.”
Being more specific is the piece of the writing advice I give to nearly every writer I work with.
Unfortunately, there aren’t seven magical words that you can use to make your writing better.
Instead, these seven vague words are KILLING your writing.
If you want to follow writing rule number one to be more specific, then you need to look out for these seven words. They’re vague and are usually a shortcut to what you’re really trying to say.
Every time you catch yourself writing with any of these, try to find a better (and more specific) way to phrase your message.
The problem with writing about what not to do is that you inevitably do exactly what you’re telling others not to do.
If you catch me using any of these seven words or phrases in this article or elsewhere, you’re welcome to email me angrily, calling me a hypocrite.
Consider, though, that none of us, especially me, have arrived at the summit of editorial perfection. Also, please remember that writing is still an art, not a science, and the most important rule of art is to break the rules!
The 7 Words and Phrases NOT to Use
Without further delay, here are the seven words and phrases to avoid if you want to become a better writer.
1. “One of”
Good writers take a stand.
It is either the most important or not. It’s either the best or not. Avoid saying “one of the most important,” “one of the best.”
Example: One of the most important writing rules is to be specific.
Instead: The most important writing rule is to be specific.
Here is the definition of the word “some:
- An unspecified amount or number of.
- Used to refer to someone or something that is unknown or unspecified.
By definition, the word “some” is vague, and as you know, vague writing is bad writing.
If you want to become a better writer, avoid “some” and all of its relatives:
We use the word “thing” constantly. Even as I was writing this article, I had to fight to avoid using it.
However, the word “thing” is a shortcut and a sign of vague, watered-down writing. If you see it in your writing, think hard about what you’re really trying to say.
4. “To Be” verbs, Especially Before Verbs Ending With -Ing
“To be” is the most frequently used verb in the English language. Its conjugations include:
Because “To Be” verbs are so common, we easily overuse them, especially with progressive verbs, verbs that end in -ing.
Example: “Spot was running through the woods.”
Instead: “Spot ran through the woods.”
“Spot was running” is a good example of a verb weakened by “to be.”
“Spot ran” on the other hand, is a much stronger example.
Why cut the word “very”? I’m going to leave this one to the pros:
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very,’” said Mark Twain. “Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys—to woo women—and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.” —N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society
“‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.” —Florence King
6. Adverbs (words that end with “-ly”)
Adverbs—like loudly, painfully, beautifully—are well-meaning words that do nothing for the reading experience.
Good writing is specific. Good writing paints pictures in readers’ minds. But which sentence paints a better picture in your mind?
Sentence 1: “She laughed loudly.”
Sentence 2: “Her loud laugh seemed to reverberate through the party like a gong. Heads turned to see where the ruckus came from.”
Adverbs do lend verbs a glimmer of meaning, but it’s the difference between gold-plated and solid gold. Go for the real thing. Avoid adverbs.
7. Leading words: So, mostly, most times, in order to, often, oftentimes
Most times—often even—you don’t need leading words. Cut them to sharpen your writing.
I’ve even read an argument that beginning your sentence with the word “so” can sound condescending. What do you think?
Writing This Way Isn’t Easy
It takes time. You have to think through each sentence, each word. You have to cut and rewrite and rewrite again.
You have to think.
This, of course, is how you become a better writer. You labor over words. You build up meaning one sentence at a time. And eventually you become so fast and competent that it’s easy, simple to write this way.
Just kidding. It’s never easy. It’s worth it, though.
Do you try to avoid any or all of these words in your writing? Let us know in the comments section.
Rewrite the following paragraph, avoiding the seven words above.
One of John’s favorite things was the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from the East River. He would sometimes walk there early in the morning when it was still very dark in order to see the city in first light. Often he would see others there who were walking and enjoying the city as well. He was somewhere near Squibb Park when someone came up behind him. She had really blonde hair and was very beautiful and she bumped him roughly as she was running quickly by. He fell, painfully, on his side, and so the woman stopped, and was jogging in place as she asked if he was okay. So, he thought, what am I going to do now?
Write for fifteen minutes, packing as much specific detail as you can into the paragraph. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you share your practice, please be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.