You know that feeling when you read something and it’s so full of fluff that you almost throw up? That’s what happens when people use overused words and phrases that is not good for content quality.
In fact, writing sentences that are too long and complicated can automatically make your readers tune out or change the subject in their minds. You can check my other blog post related to readability and flesh score.
You might not even realize you’re doing it: I certainly wasn’t aware until a fellow blogger pointed them out. If you want to become a better freelance writer then you need to be better at words like power words, emotional words, and uncommon words.
But now that I’m aware, I’m going to do better! So here they are:
A common word that should never be used is “very.” It’s a very common word, but also one that adds nothing to your sentence.
Instead of using “very,” try using something more specific or descriptive, like “extremely,” or even just saying what you mean directly (e.g., “I’m very excited about this!”).
You – If you don’t need to say “you,” then don’t. It’s that simple. You can often remove the word “you” from a sentence and it will still make sense (and sometimes even sound better).
Also, avoid using “I” or “we.” Realize that these words are not always necessary when writing about yourself or your organization.
The words “it is” are so common that they’ve become an easy way to make your writing sound lazy. Instead of using it to say what something is or how you feel, try saying something else.
If you find yourself saying “it is,” ask yourself if it’s possible to rephrase the sentence in a more interesting way. If not, consider replacing “is” with another word or phrase that expresses what you mean better than “is.”
Avoiding obvious words and phrases is one of the best ways to make your writing more engaging.
You may find some creative uses for these phrases in dialogue or descriptive prose, but avoid them in any cases where their meaning could be considered self-evident.
- In this case,
- On the contrary,
- A lot of
- A large number of
These words are all nearly synonymous and can be used interchangeably, but they’re not the best choice in most cases.
“Many people were out for the long weekend” is better than “A lot of people were out for the long weekend,” Which is better than “Countless people were out for the long weekend.”
- The first implies that there was a particular group we were talking about.
- The second implies that we could only give an estimate of how many people there actually were.
- And the third implies that our numbers are too big to even count!
This is a small word to avoid. It can be used in articles and essays, but it is not necessary on all occasions.
For example, if you write “I have lots of work” and then follow up with “however” it should be avoided because it does not add much value to the statement.
It is also unnecessary after an explanation or conclusion such as: “I have lots of work; however I am going to get through it because my friend was kind enough to help me out.”
When it comes to
I don’t care if you’re a minimalist or an excessive writer, this phrase is a real no-no. It’s not just that it’s redundant (it can be expressed in one word) but also that it makes the reader feel like you’re about to tell them something really important.
And then… nothing happens! “When” is just another adverb, so why would you need two?
As of late
“As of late,” “in the past few weeks,” and “recently” are all synonyms for “lately.” They’re interchangeable, but they’re also clunky.
Your audience will understand what you mean without them. If a word like “now” is what you want to use, it’ll be much more effective if you just say “now.”
Some words can be used in place of others because they sound better or more natural in conversation.
First second third
It’s important to note that these words aren’t always used best by their own authors. The use of first, second and third are usually used in academic writing when referencing the order of events or ideas in a text.
In other contexts, such as academic journals or news articles, it is not necessary to include these words when referencing something for the reader.
Should be able to
This is a common word to use in business writing, but it can come across as passive-aggressive and even patronizing.
A better alternative is “You could,” which is more direct and doesn’t sound like you’re telling the reader what he or she should do.
“You should be able to do this.” vs “You could try that.”
You should avoid using the word absolutely in your writing. These are overused words and come across as insincere, especially if you’re trying to sound formal or academic.
Instead, use more precise language and more specific words that convey precisely what you mean without sounding like a robot. To avoid sounding overly formal and pedantic, try replacing “absolutely” with another verb or phrase when possible.
“Absolutely!” is an easy way to say yes but it doesn’t have much meaning beyond agreeing with someone else’s idea.
If you really want your reader/audience to know how much you agree with something, use a stronger word like “Definitely”.
A lot (replace with “many” or “much”)
A lot: Use this word only if you mean “many.”
Many: Means “a large number of” or “a high degree of.” You can also use it to say that something is happening with frequency, but remember not to overuse it.
If you want to express the idea of both a large number and frequency in one sentence, use many twice in your sentence.
For example, There are many ways to use the word “many” correctly—you just need practice!
A word that used to be an absolute no-no, but has been getting a little more leeway lately. I’ve seen it in the New York Times and other publications of high quality.
It’s still bad, though—a word that sounds like a child describing his own behavior or appearance: “I know I’m messy and eat too much candy, but I’m actually a very good boy.”
Again is a word that shows up way too often in writing. People often use it when they mean “in addition to” or “also,” but these phrases sound better and are more concise: “In addition to..”,” Also..”,
It’s also good practice not to use words like “again” at the beginning of sentences.
The word “again” can start a sentence that sounds repetitive and is usually unnecessary unless you’re repeating something said previously for example: “I went back again to the store.”
All things considered
This phrase is commonly used to offer a balanced perspective on an issue, but it can sound a little too formal or even slightly condescending.
If you’re writing something that’s less formal, consider using “all things considered” as an adverb.
“Almost” is a word that can be used to soften the blow of a negative statement. For example, if you say “I almost never eat sugar,” it means that you pretty much never eat sugar (except for this one time).
Using almost makes the statement less harsh but still gives the reader an idea of how often you do something or don’t do something.
“Alternative” is a word that’s very frequently misused. “Alternative” doesn’t mean “something different from,” it means “one among two or more things.”
So you can say, for example, “You have a choice between taking the train and driving,” but not “You have an alternative to taking the train and driving.”
As a matter of fact (just say “fact”)
“As a matter of fact” is an unnecessary phrase that’s usually used to make the speaker feel more clever.
It can also be used to emphasize your point, which only makes things worse.
Instead, use facts that are actually factual and let them do the heavy lifting for you!
At this juncture in my life
- This is a really important time for me.
- I’m at a crossroads.
At the end of the day
At the end of the day, you want to be understood by your audience. Avoid the following words and phrases.
“At the end of the day”: This phrase can be used in informal conversations with friends or coworkers, but it’s not appropriate in formal writing because it’s too ambiguous.
What does “at the end of the day” mean?
- The beginning?
- A certain point in time?
- All time?
If you’re unsure about why this phrase should be avoided.
Begs the question
Avoid using this phrase in formal writing.
The phrase begs the question is used to mean “raises a new issue that should be considered first.”
It’s not an error, but it’s an overused cliche and should be avoided in formal writing.
Believe it or not
Who are you talking to?
Use sparingly. Avoid it. Don’t overuse it.
It can be used as an attitude indicator and to show character traits but avoid being overly dramatic.
By and large
By and large, is redundant because it means “in general.”
Certainly or definitely
Certainly (we hope so!) or definitely (you’re sure?)
“Of course,” “certainly,” and “definitely” are all phrases that add nothing to your sentence. If you want to use these words in your writing, save them for the most important part of your sentence: The conclusion.
Close proximity (just say “close”)
This phrase can be replaced with “close” or even “next to” or “nearby.” This will make it clear that whatever was happening involved physical distance between two things: people, events, etc., without having to say so explicitly.
Close together (should be one word)
You can’t be close together because you will already be close! Replace with just “together.”
One of the biggest problems with the phrase “a lot” is that it can be overused. The word “a” is a definite article, so using it in front of a noun automatically makes your sentence sound vague and unspecific.
If you’re writing something like “I ate too much food at lunch,” then you can leave out the indefinite article: “I ate too much food today.”
Needless to say
Needless to say, this phrase is a perfect example of the types of phrases you should avoid when writing. Avoid any unnecessary words or phrases that take up space in your writing.
In terms of
In terms of is one of those phrases that can be confusing. It’s usually used to mean “with regard to” or “regarding,” but it often sounds more like a laundry list of items, rather than a real noun. For example:
- In terms of cost, this option is the most expensive.
- In terms of taste, the best cookie was made by Jane Doe.
Instead, try using more specific language so you’re not just listing off random things.
For your consideration
To be perfectly honest
Going forward, I will work on my relationship with my family.
Going forward, we will have to make some changes to our business model.
It seems that
The evidence points to the conclusion that
It looks like it’s going to rain, but we’ll see what happens
Absolutely essential/critically important/major issue.
We get it. It’s important.
Don’t use words like “absolutely” or “critically.” The reader knows what you mean: that the topic is very important.
You don’t need to tell them again because they’ll get tired of hearing this over and over again in every sentence they read from you!
If your reader gets tired, they will become less engaged with the content—and their attention span will suffer as a result.
if you’re an economics or political science student, then fine, otherwise delete
The term zero-sum describes a situation in which one party’s gain is exactly balanced by the loss of the other party.
Use “I” less often
Try to de-center yourself and focus more on what your sources are saying; you want your paper to be about the argument, not about you!
Basically, these are words that are used so often they’ve lost their meaning.
These words don’t add anything to the sentence they appear in and can make your writing sound boring and dull.
They’re also not very specific, so using them makes it harder for readers to understand what you mean when reading your text.
You should use this word only to describe something that is, well, basic.
For example: “The basic concept of this article is to tell writers what words they should avoid using in their writing.”
In order to
“In order to” is a redundant phrase, and should be avoided whenever possible. When you are writing, your reader doesn’t need to know what you did in order to get something done.
Just state what happened, and trust your audience will understand the reasoning.
If you want to give historical context as part of your writing, then use “As a result…” instead of “In order to…”
- As a result of my poor diet and lack of exercise, my health declined rapidly over time. Until I finally collapsed on my way home from work one day because my legs weren’t strong enough anymore.
You don’t have to use the word “literally” literally. Even though it means that something is not figurative or metaphorical, you can still use it figuratively or metaphorically.
For example: “The man literally died of laughter.”
It’s a fact that
You may be tempted to use it’s a fact because you think it sounds more authoritative and factual. However, in many cases, it can be misleading or incorrect.
The word “fact” can imply something is absolute when it isn’t: if you’re writing about someone’s opinion, feeling, or belief—or even an assumption (perhaps yours)—you should probably not use this phrase at all.
Instead, clarify what sort of fact we’re talking about. For example:
- It was my opinion that he didn’t deserve the award—but I was wrong!
It is also important to note that there are several different kinds of facts. Some are objective while others aren’t. Some are based on experience and others on research, and finally, there are those things we believe without any evidence whatsoever.
Consider where your information fits into each group so as not to mislead your readers unnecessarily with unhelpful language choices like “it’s a fact.”
I think that
This is a classic example of uncertainty. It’s better to just state your opinion outright.
If you’re still unsure, try using phrases like “I feel” or “I think that…” instead of this phrase.
At this point in time
“At this point in time” is an unnecessary addition to a sentence and should be avoided. It’s redundant, as it’s assumed that you’re writing about current events or the present moment.
For example, “I was 20 years old at the time of my first graduation ceremony,” versus “I was 20 years old at this point in time.”
For all intents and purposes
It’s too long
With respect to
Nobody likes a speaker who doesn’t respect their audience’s time. If you’re going to include a lengthy preamble in your writing, make sure it’s actually necessary and not just filler.
In fact, if you’re going to use it with respect at all, make sure that it has something to do with what comes next. “With respect to” is too often used as an awkward way of saying “about.”
These phrases have the tendency to be overused, and we should replace them with simpler words instead.
The overused words and phrases should be replaced with simpler words.
- “in other words”
- “I think that” or “I feel that”
Avoid the overused words and phrases listed above. If you do use them, make sure they add value to your sentence or phrase!