Weak, poor and bad words can dilute the power of your writing.
Writing is not an easy business. It doesn’t matter if you write fiction, short stories or blog posts.
Choosing the best vocabulary and grammar is what makes the difference between an average and an excellent text. For most writers, many of the words that dilute your message are habits or tics.
These words often appear when you are in the act of writing your first draft because you are trying to get everything down as quickly as possible.
After your first draft
When it comes time to start on your second draft, then you need to take the red pen, an axe or even a chainsaw to your writing and word choice.
Fixing poor vocabulary can often be as simple as deleting a word. While for others, you will have to rephrase your way out of trouble.
It would be easy to make a list of hundreds of words that interfere with good storytelling or messaging. But I will keep my list short and concentrate on the most important words and phrases that can weaken your writing.
I like to put these words to avoid into three categories.
Weak words diminish the value of your writing.
Poor words have better alternatives.
Bad words are prime candidates for deletion.
The difference between a great article, a gripping young adult story or a phenomenal poem is always about the selection of words.
The following three lists with examples will hopefully help you make far better choices.
1. Weak as water words
These words dilute good writing because they are usually unnecessary. Using more words doesn’t translate into more information. You can make a great point without all these extra words.
Here are some of the most common weak words to avoid.
Just is a genuine tic word. It is usually used as an adverb, and it falls out of your fingers when you write. Every time you see it, you should delete it as quickly as possible.
I was furious, so I just got into my car and drove off. Delete
I was so furious, I jumped into my car and drove off.
It was just the way she looked at me that made me suspicious. Delete
It was the odd way she looked at me that made me suspicious.
He could have just as easily told me he didn’t know instead of lying about it. Delete
He could have easily told me he didn’t know instead of lying about it.
So is an adverb to intensify. it is also used as a conjunction to indicate a reason. It is almost always the weakest choice you can make.
It is one word that you should always avoid in business or article writing.
There are always many better alternatives.
So, please enter your email address in the form below. Delete
Please enter your email address in the form below.
So, I was going to tell you, but I forgot. Delete
I was going to tell you, but I forgot.
My boss was so angry with me when I broke the photocopier. Delete
My boss was furious with me when I broke the photocopier.
We only had a few minutes to change trains, so we had to run to the next platform. Delete
We had to run to the next platform because (as) we only had a few minutes to change trains.
Indefinite pronouns only serve to say nothing other than that whatever it is, is unspecified. Something, someone, somewhere or somehow, somewhat and somebody can almost always be replaced with stronger vocabulary.
There was something about the way his eyes glazed over when I asked him why he was leaving. Delete
His eyes glazed over and he looked completely lost when I asked him why he was leaving.
Somehow, I have to find a way to make them understand that they can’t stay any longer. Delete
I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I have to find a way to make them understand that they can’t stay any longer.
Someone next door must have seen the armed gunman and called the police. Delete
One of the neighbours must have seen the armed gunman and called the police.
2. Poor words add no value
Don’t use weak modification or intensification of adjectives. It adds little value. Try to replace an intensifying adverb with a stronger adjective.
My favourite word to delete and replace. If you see it, get rid of it because it rarely adds any value.
Marshall was very angry because his sister smashed his new car. Delete
Marshall was furious because his sister smashed his new car.
I worked all day long, and now the house is very clean. Delete
I worked all day long, and now the house is spotless.
Mary and John were very tired after their long walk through the streets of the old town. Delete
Mary and John were exhausted after their long walk through the streets of the old town.
Often used in a similar way to very, but occasionally as an exclamation. In either case, it is one word that never belongs in any form or writing. You should really pay attention because it always needs deleting.
I really don’t know why I lost my job. My boss sent me an email and told me not to come to work on Monday. Delete
I don’t understand why I lost my job. My boss sent me an email and told me not to come to work on Monday.
I should have taken an umbrella. I got really wet on the way back home. Delete
I should have taken an umbrella. I got soaked on the way back home.
My eldest boy is really clever and always passes his exams. Delete
My eldest boy is brilliant and always passes his exams.
This is another low value modifying adverb. You can almost always replace it with far better alternatives.
Oh, it was a fantastic holiday, but it was quite cold at night. Luckily we had a fireplace to keep us warm. Delete
Oh, it was a fantastic holiday, but it was freezing at night. Luckily we had a fireplace to keep us warm.
We were quite lucky to find a new apartment as quickly as we did. It saved us a lot of money on hotel bills. Delete
We were fortunate to find a new apartment as quickly as we did. It saved us a lot of money on hotel bills.
It took us quite a while to get from the airport to the city. The traffic was blocked for miles on the highway. Delete
It took us ages to get from the airport to the city. The traffic was blocked for miles on the highway.
3. Bad words are the worst
I don’t mean swear words here. Bad words are those that confuse, are redundant or offer nothing of any value for a reader.
The most common are adverbs ending in “ly”. I’ll get to them, but first on my list is a word that might surprise you.
This is one of the most overused, and often incorrectly applied pronouns. Why?
Because it refers to present and future and not to the past. When using a pronoun to refer to a noun that was in the preceding sentence, the correct pronoun is that.
It is often used to break up long sentences into shorter ones. But this can cause problems.
Also, starting a sentence with this, when it has nothing to refer to is not effective or clear writing.
I broke my leg playing football. This is why I couldn’t go to work for two months.
I broke my leg playing football. That is why I couldn’t go to work for two months.
This will give you a laugh. Mary started going out with Nathan again.
You’ll laugh when I tell you the news. Mary started going out with Nathan again.
I know you studied hard, but this result tells you how hard it is to get into medical school.
I know you studied hard, but the result tells you how hard it is to get into medical school.
Obviously, clearly and actually
These three words can be deleted 99.9% of the time. In fact, all ‘ly’ adverbs should be used
sparingly in moderation.
Obviously, there was nothing we could do to help her get over the loss of her mother.
There was nothing we could do to help her get over the loss of her mother.
Clearly, she had made up her mind, and there was no convincing her that she might be wrong.
She had made up her mind, and there was no convincing her that she might be wrong.
Actually, I ‘m from France, but my mother was English. That’s why my English language level is so good. But clearly, I have a slight accent.
I’m from France, but my mother was English. That’s why my English language level is so good. But I have a slight accent.
Adverbs in reported speech
Another set of adverbs that should be replaced with much more descriptive expressions are dialogue tags.
“I don’t care what you think. You can’t get away with stealing money from your boss,” she said
“I don’t care what you think. You can’t get away with stealing money from your boss,” she said, as her face flushed with anger.
“You won’t believe it, but I got a job with a prestigious law firm in the city,” she said
“You won’t believe it, but I got a job with a prestigious law firm in the city,” she said, grinning with delight.
“Oh, I’m so pleased that I passed all my exams,” she said
“Oh, I’m so pleased that I passed all my exams,” she said with a beaming smile.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I could have written a long list of poor, weak and bad words that you should avoid in your writing.
The ones I have listed are all high on my delete or replace list when I am working on a second draft, or proofreading a blog post or content marketing article.
Along with the dreaded passive voice instead of using the active voice, all of these words are an instant recipe to lose your readers. Delete or re-write them all.
Keep your eyes open for these words in your writing. when you spot one of them, take out your red pen, or delete key, and give them the chop.
Never worry about your word count. Deleting words distils and improves your writing.