- 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.
Writing is a combination of art and craft. The art comes from lots of reading, talking, thinking, dreaming, and writing. The craft is primarily technique. Some techniques are complex, but a few are very simple and will instantly strengthen your writing. In many cases, however, strengthening writing simply means avoiding those things that weaken it.
We have identified 10 words that nearly always weaken writing. In no particular order, they are as follows.
“Avoiding this word is a really great idea.” Reason: A really great idea is the same as a great idea. If you need to emphasize something, such as the “greatness” of an idea, use a single word that means what you are trying to say, e.g., “Avoiding this word is an excellent idea.”
“Sometimes, you feel like writing is too hard.” Reason: I never feel this way, so this statement is not true. The writer probably means “I” or “some writers,” e.g., “Sometimes, I feel like writing is too hard.” “You” should only be used when you are actually writing to, and about, the reader, not when making general statements.
“I feel the government should stop people from writing poorly.” Reason: Which emotion is being “felt”? What is the writer touching and, therefore, feeling?
Usually, the writer means “believe” or “think.” “Feel” is also used by authors to describe a character’s emotions, as in “He felt despondent.” Instead, the writer should show the emotions through the character’s words and actions.
“I think the government should stop people from writing poorly.” Reason: If you write an opinion, the reader understands that you also think it. Just say what it is you think, e.g., “The government should stop people from writing poorly.”
“As you write this word, poke out your eyes. It’s weak as it can cause confusion.” Reason: A person usually cannot do two actions simultaneously, so “as” doesn’t make sense in the first sentence. It could be rewritten, “Write this word, then poke out your eyes.” In the second sentence, the writer should use “because.” Until reading the rest of the sentence, the reader doesn’t know if “as” means two actions are occurring simultaneously or means “because.”
6. A lot
“A lot of writing could be made better.” Reason: How much is “a lot”? 100 documents? 50% of everything I have written? 1% of one million books? The term “a lot” is meaningless without the context, but if you give the context, you don’t need the term “a lot.” Also, this is highly subjective. “A lot” to one person may seem like some” to another.
7. Sort of/Kind of
“Using these words is sort of annoying to the reader.” Reason: If using these words is only sort of annoying, you haven’t told the reader exactly what it is. If it is annoying, say so: “Writing this way annoys the reader.” If it is not annoying, tell the reader exactly what it is, e.g., “Using these words bothers readers.” Use words that mean what you are trying to say, and give the reader exact descriptions. This also applies to “kind of.”
“Using these words is like baking with spoiled milk.” Reason: If this is like something, then it is NOT that thing. Giving accurate descriptions and using correct verbs
will reduce your need to use “like,” e.g., “These words spoil your writing.” A good metaphor can enhance your writing, but using too many makes writing tedious, so try to think of a different way to express your ideas.
“Some people are just persnickety about writing. It’s just the way they write.” Reason: The word “just” doesn’t add any real value to these sentences. Leaving
them out results in the same meanings and makes the sentences much tighter and more direct: “Some people are persnickety about writing. It’s the way they write.” Doesn’t that just sound better?
10. Used to
“He used to write like this when he started writing.” Reason: Using fewer words to express an idea is almost always a good idea, so “used to write” can be written “wrote,” as in, “He wrote like this when he started writing.” The problem is that “used to write” and “when he started writing” both express events in the past, which is redundant. In nearly every case, “used to . . .” can be replaced with a past tense verb.
The sample sentences demonstrate poor uses of these words, but you will find good uses, too. In fact, some of them are perfectly fine in some contexts or when used in
particular ways. Your level of formality, purpose, voice, and audience will determine whether or not to use these words. If you’re not sure whether or not to use them in a particular sentence, our advice is to avoid them.
Precise Edit editors keep a sharp eye out for these troublesome and confusing words. We evaluate their use and, in most cases, find a way to revise the sentences so as
to avoid them. The result is stronger writing that more clearly and more professionally communicates the author’s ideas.
About the Author:
David Bowman is the Owner and Chief Editor of Precise Edit, a comprehensive editing, proofreading, and document analysis service for authors, students, and
businesses. Precise Edit also offers a variety of other services, such as translation, transcription, and website development.