You know what you planned to write about. You set out with great intentions to write a beautiful piece. But then you became lost in a sea of words and descriptions, defining and explaining. There are just too many options, after all (there are 171 476 words in the English language!). Soon your writing doesn’t match the picture you had in your head of the piece you set out to write. And that’s because of the words you used which shouldn’t have been there.
The key to good writing, said Pulitzer Prize-winning author Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss, is “meticulosity”. “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
With that wise saying, Michelle Jones from digital marketing agency, Rogerwilco, shares her thoughts on words that should be avoided.
This is a word which does nothing to the word it’s referring to. Why say you’re “very scared” when you could say you’re “petrified”. Don’t say you’re “very busy” when you could describe yourself as “frantic”. Use words which are descriptive, without being too flowery, and your writing will be evocative with meaning.
Similar to very, being “really” bad at spelling is exactly the same as being bad at spelling. There’s no reason to use this word for additional emphasis. If you do need to emphasise something, use a single word which fully describes what you’re trying to say.
If a sentence makes sense after removing “that”, delete it. Go through your writing and see how many times you’ve used “that”. I’d hedge a bet 9 out of 10 times were completely unnecessary.
Stuff is one of the ultimate lazy words. It should only be used sparingly when you’re trying to be intentionally informal. Otherwise, it just fails to properly describe what it seeks to refer to.
Just like “stuff”, this is used far too often. “Things” doesn’t describe properly what it’s referring to. It should instead be replaced with a more descriptive word.
How much is “a lot”? It could mean anything from 10 to 10 000. It isn’t saying anything and is subjective. Rather be specific. And the ultimate offence of this word? Its common misspelling as “alot”. Shudder.
And it’s annoying friend “gotten”. These are not words you should ever use. They are lazy. They’re the words writers use when they can’t be bothered to think of a better one. One of the worst features of these words is their vagueness. It says absolutely nothing while wasting your readers’ precious time. Why would you want to do that to them?
Noticed a theme yet? The words you should seek to cut from your writing are lazy and don’t effectively describe what they’re referring to. There are many more words than those on this list which have lost their meaning thanks to overuse. When in doubt, rather replace one of these with a more descriptive word which the reader will find helpful as they imagine the scene.
Because that’s what we’re doing, using carefully chosen words to show rather than tell. Stop using these superfluous words in your writing. Or at the very least, think twice before using them. You have just a few seconds to capture the attention of your reader. Don’t miss this opportunity with sloppy, poorly-crafted copy.
*This article first appeared on The Marketing Site.