When possible, you should try to avoid vague words because they can have an impact on the meaning of your writing.
Depending on the context, they can sometimes make it challenging for readers to understand your message clearly.
You can improve the clarity and impact of your writing by being careful with your choice of vocabulary.
The best way to avoid problems with possible misunderstandings or lack of clarity is to be more specific.
What are unclear or vague words?
Certain words that are imprecise, undefined, or lack explicitness often fail to convey a clear meaning and can lead to misunderstandings or confusion for a reader.
Common examples of vague words include thing, stuff, good, bad, and nice.
We had a nice time at the picnic yesterday.
I have to take some stuff with me to work tomorrow for the sales conference.
It’s a thing I always forget to do.
The restaurant wasn’t bad, but I’ve been to better.
Michael said the movie was good.
Words like these may seem fitting or expedient.
But you can see from the examples above they can make your writing appear dull, weak, or bland.
The easy fix is to be much more specific.
Why are vague words a problem?
Words that dilute the strength of your message can make it difficult for readers to understand your point of view.
They can also detract from the credibility of your writing by making it seem uncertain or unclear.
Your choice of words can also make it challenging for readers to grasp the key points in your writing.
For example, consider the following sentence.
The guidelines are bad.
It is a vague sentence because it needs to specify what is bad about the guidelines.
Does bad mean that the guidelines are poorly written, inaccurate, or lack enough details?
Using a word like bad fails to provide the reader with enough information to entirely understand the point.
How to avoid vague words
The obvious fix is to use more specific vocabulary and descriptive terms.
But you can’t always simply delete and replace a single word.
A weak word may be the most appropriate, so you might need to add more information.
There is always a way to make your writing stronger and clear.
Here are some quick tips to help you.
1. Identify the purpose of your writing
Before you start a new text, take a moment to think about what you want to achieve with your writing.
What message do you want to convey?
What important points do you want your readers to understand?
Having a clear purpose in mind helps you choose the most appropriate words to express your thoughts.
2. Use concrete and specific words
Instead of using vague pronouns or words, choose concrete and specific terms that clearly convey your message.
For example, you could use a product, item, or object instead of a thing.
Similarly, you could use excellent, outstanding, or superb instead of good.
Using concrete and specific words will help your readers understand your message more clearly.
3. Define your terms
If you’re using technical or specialized terms, it’s essential to define them for your readers.
You know what breakpoints with media queries are, but your readers may not.
Breakpoints with media queries are points when websites adjust to different screen sizes, such as mobile, tablet, and desktop.
It’s always better to give clear information.
The same applies when you use acronyms. Make sure you add a reference for an acronym when you first use it.
By defining, you avoid confusion and ensure that your readers understand the meaning of your writing.
4. Try to describe
When possible, use descriptive words to help your readers visualize your message.
Here’s a vague sentence.
The view was beautiful.
With more description, you can quickly improve it.
The view from the hilltop was a breathtaking panorama of endless rolling hills, valleys, and clear blue lakes.
By being descriptive, you’ll make your writing more engaging and memorable for your readers.
5. Avoid unnecessary absolutes
Words like always, never, and every are often vague because they don’t account for exceptions or limitations.
It’s better to use more flexible words that reflect the complexity of the situation.
For example, instead of saying, “Almost everyone disagrees with the policy,” you could say, “Many staff members disagree with the policy.”
But if you want to say it’s absolute, make it clear. “Not one staff member agrees with the policy.”
6. Avoid phrases that are too general
Some common phrases are too general to use in writing.
a lot of
that kind of thing
stuff like that
more or less
and so forth
When you see these or similar phrases, replace them with a more specific and meaningful description or reason.
I think he more or less likes his new job.
I think he likes his new job because he loves working on policy. But he is still adjusting to all the extra meetings, traveling, and reporting.
7. Check when you edit your writing
It’s true that you should write with freedom and edit with care.
In the case of vague words and phrases, don’t worry too much about them when you are writing.
However, when it’s time to check your draft, highlight any unclear parts.
You can then revise them to ensure you convey your points more clearly and accurately to your readers.
You can’t avoid vague words and phrases all the time.
There are no good or bad words in writing because every word has its place.
But you can make your writing clearer and more precise.
When you proofread a text, think like a reader.
Ask yourself, is it clear?
Related Reading: Neutral Language Register In Writing To Present Facts