Terrible Words Kill Your Writing

written by Mikaela Cowles on February 5, 2013 in Grammar with no comments

Terrible-Words

What are terrible words? They’re the ambiguous ones.Why? They’re easy. They’re safe. They don’t really say anything. No matter what you’re writing about or to whom you’re writing, communicating is paramount.

I spend a lot of time creating original copy, editing, and reading for both clients and myself. From the everyday Joe to the business professional and even, heart be still, the established writer, I see writing killed by extra and ambiguous words.

Here are my four least favorite words. You’re not always going to able to escape using them and sometimes they’re necessary. Keep in mind however, used improperly or too frequently they’re a death trap.

That
“That” is my biggest pet peeve. It is used as a writing word filler in the same way, “like,” “um,” and “you know,” are used in speech. It’s often not needed and frequently overlooked during the editing process. Recently I read, Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a fantastic book about selling without selling and it’s incredibly well written. Still, Lencioni has his hiccups. Look at this passage for example.

I know a consultant at Lighthouse who told his client that he needed to move his son out of a leadership position because he was incompetent. Another guy I know recently told a CEO that he doesn’t hold his staff accountable. And last week I had to tell a guy that I thought he talked too much during meetings. But remember the ‘kind’ part. We give them that sort of feedback with a level of empathy and concern that you would normally reserve for a friend. (158)

Each unnecessary “that” was crossed out. Did you read them anyways? If not, did you miss them?

Delicious
“Delicious” means something tastes good, but it says nothing about why. People want to know what it tastes, feels, smells, and looks like. Give them the nitty gritty. Don’t settle for a something so vanilla as, delicious. Here are two examples describing the same lunch. Which one would you choose?

Example 1
My steak salad was delicious.

Example 2
My steak salad was a meat lover’s leafy filled dream.

Got
“Got” means obtaining something. It can also be used in place of words such as have. More often than not, “got” can be replaced with a word which actually describes a situation.

“I got up,” could mean, “I stood up,” or “I woke up.”

“I got a doll,” might mean, “I was given a doll,” “I have a doll,” “I earned a doll,” “I won a doll.”

So, won’t you be a doll and stop using “got?”

Really
“Really,” is commonly used to emphasize something such as: “A really great idea” or “A really big man.” Instead use descriptive words such as: “A fantastic idea” or “A huge man.”

These are my top four. What are some of your least favorite words?

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