We are all guilty of using warn out and unnecessary words in our writing. Common words and clichés can be go-to’s in our speech and in our writing, because they are familiar and pop into our sentences when we are either feeling insecure about what we’re trying to say or because they’re such a large part of our society’s word bank that we use them without even noticing. While compiling this list, I had to ask myself (honestly): What words do I use during my first draft that I end up editing out? What words or phrases make me cringe when I come across them in an article, book, or blog? What words have my colleagues, professors, or editors crossed out with red ink over and over again? The list below could have been even longer, but it’s usually better to start small and work your way up when coming up with resolutions.
One thing to keep in mind, is that language is ever-evolving and style guides change. What may be a faux pas in American English might be acceptable in the UK or Canada. Sites such as The Chicago Manual of Style Online, Grammar Girl, and The Oxford English Dictionary Online are excellent resources and will keep you up-to-date with English grammar rules and word usage. I have all three saved under “Bookmarks” and use them regularly. Whether your writing is personal, professional, academic, or for the the web, this list will start you off in the right direction. We can all work on becoming better writers, so let’s have this be another resolution for 2017.
- To be honest…Whether you are speaking or writing, work on avoiding this cliché. Years ago in Boston a co-worker pointed this one out to me. She asked, “So does that mean you’re usually not speaking honestly?” Oh my goodness! Yes, why indeed would anyone preface a statement with this cliché?? It is an unnecessary phrase that can make you look disingenuous. This has been an easy one for me to avoid ever since.
- Very, really, quite, totally…These words add nothing to your sentence. These adjectives and adverbs restrict you as a writer, because they don’t offer an accurate portrayal of what you are trying to convey. Instead of sticking “very” or “really” in front of an adjective or noun, choose a word that is more dynamic and means exactly what you want to say. For example, instead of “She is really good looking” say “She is stunning.”
- I think…If you are writing or saying something, then it is obviously your own thought. If it is a comment that you are quoting from someone else, then it is clear to your reader that what you’re writing is someone else’s thought.
- In my opinion…We know it’s your opinion, because you’re writing it. If it’s not your opinion, then it’s a fact or someone else’s opinion and you should state that.
- I feel…Same as above. In addition, restrict your senses to what they are used for. Feeling is a sense that should be used as a verb to describe what you are touching.
- Absolutely…You don’t really mean it. It’s more likely that what you mean is “yes.” Affirming things “absolutely” in your writing is not recommended. When speaking, say what you mean and stick to “yes.” In the case of “absolutely,” I choose to follow the adage, “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.”
- Get…This is a week verb. We can all do better.
- For all intents and purposes…Not only is this phrase often misquoted (e.g. “For all intensive purposes”), it is not necessary. You can complete your point without it.
- Then…When showing a sequence of events, try to remove “then” or add “and” instead. Repeated use of “then” in a series appears juvenille.
- That…If your sentence still makes sense after removing “that,” then delete it. Example, “My child’s drawing is the best that I have ever seen” versus “My child’s drawing is the best I have ever seen.”
I hope this list is helpful and something you can start putting to use. Like love, grammar is a battlefield and it takes a lot of practice and some missteps to avoid the land mines. (I needed to add at least a couple of clichés to lighten the mood 😉 ) Happy writing everyone!