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Want to Become a Better Writer? Check These Words at the Door

Want to Become a Better Writer? Check These Words at the Door

10_words.pngWriting is hard, write? Sorry — I meant “right.”

When you’re creating content — whether for your personal passion project, your full-time job, or your freelance gig — you can easily fall into some habits that are hard to break. These habits can include anything from using certain words the wrong way to repeating one word to using pronouns and adjectives without the proper information to back them up.

While everyone has his or her own style of writing, certain words and phrases can complicate your content. And when I find these habits across the page, as an editor, I feel a sudden cringe. Not only can certain words be generally unappealing to readers, but they can also indicate that you — as the writer — dont know what you’re doing or that you dont have the vocabulary to keep your content fresh.

Our team of editors has spoken. Here are 10 of our least favorite words to come across, why they need a rewrite, and what you can use instead:

1. Focus 

“Focus” is a difficult word to work with — but only because it’s used so often. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or edited out “focus.” Focus on your core needs. Focus on your employees’ day-to-day tasks. Focus. You should be focusing. FOCUS.
See how that can get annoying really quickly? On its own, “focus” is a great word, but if you really want people to focus on your writing, try some synonyms to break up the monotony. “Concentrate on,” “center on,” or even “home in on” can all replace focuswhen it’s being used too often.

2. Allow

This goes for all forms of “allow,” but I see it most often in its present participle,allowing. For example, “Merriam-Webster has a thesaurus, allowing you to look up synonyms of words that are used too often, or I sometimes see allow in this form up to five times in one article, allowing me to pull my hair out.

When you’re reading over your article to find errors and you see “allow” or “allowing,”permit yourself to use another word. Set yourself free by letting your synonym freak flag fly. I know you can do it. It just takes giving yourself the green light.

3. That

What’s up with that? “That” can be used way too often. Plus — better than “focus” or “allow” — the word “that” is often extraneous and can be removed from a sentence. For example, I used “that” a couple of times at the beginning of this article. Can you figure out where it wasn’t necessary?

Here’s one: “ ...indicate that you — as the writer — may not know what you’re doing orthat you dont have the vocabulary to keep your content fresh.” The second “that” can be removed in this sentence. The sentences meaning is still the same without it, and the removal of that even makes the sentence easier to read.

Still, “that can be pretty debatable, so for more information on when to combat it and when to leave it in, read this piece by Bonnie Mills.

4. Disrupt

Did someone disrupt your lunch break? That was rude, but that’s not the kind of disruption I’m referencing. If you’re writing anything for entrepreneurs or related to the tech industry, you’ve probably woven in the word “disrupt” to disrupt your writing.

Not only is “disrupt” a buzzword that many editors are tired of hearing, but its overuse has also earned it a place on the same list as repetitive words like “allow” and “focus.”

Did Uber do anything else besides “disrupt” the taxi industry? Did it break up the industry? Change it? Adapt it? As was hinted at earlier, a thesaurus really is your best bet for battling repetitious wording.

5. Very

I hate this word very much. Don’t use “very” excessively. It’s lazy. You can use a different modifier. You know you can, and I know you can. Don’t even use the word that would have followed very had you used it. You can change that word, too! Turn very sad into melancholy. Very happy can be transformed into ecstatic. Feeling very nervous? Sounds to me like you’re anxious.

This one can be a little trickier than just going to a thesaurus and finding synonyms for “very.” Instead, go to the thesaurus, and look up the word that “very” is modifying. Chances are, you’ll find an even better word. If you can’t — if you’ve reached the pinnacle of extremity with the noun you’ve already chosen — then just let “very” go altogether.

6. Catalyst

First, do you know what a catalyst is? Are you sure? Because I don’t think it would hurt to take a moment to look it up in the dictionary. A catalyst, according to Merriam-Webster, can be one of two things: “a substance that causes a chemical reaction to happen more quickly” or “a person or event that quickly causes change or action.” A catalyst isn’t slow, and it isn’t a building.
Second, what other words could you be using instead of “catalyst?” Like you did when you replaced “disrupt,” think of other options. Was Jeff Bezos a catalyst for e-commerce? Sure, maybe. But what did he do? Did he shift the industry? Did he inspire others to work in e-commerce?

7. Really, Many, and Most

Each qualifier listed here is good. We all need qualifiers. But we also need to avoid lazy habits that weaken our writing. Instead of “really,” “many,” or “most,” use a specific number, and add a link or a footnote to ensure you’re presenting the correct information.

As a reader, which do you prefer: “Most of this list consists of repetitious words,” or “About 70 percent of the list youre reading consists of repetitious words”?

Here’s a better example: “Most iPhone users prefer Google Maps.” OK, that’s cool. But how do I know that? And how many is “most”? It’s confusing at best.

Instead, write, “Nearly 70 percent of iPhone users prefer Google Maps, according to a survey by Fluent.” It’s best to stick with actual numbers where possible. If you can’t, pull in an article that will support your argument of “most” or “many.”

8. Thing

Before I bust out a rendition of “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill, let’s talk about the word “thing.” What does “thing” refer to? (And I’m not asking in terms of the song, thanks.) If you don’t have a proper noun for “thing” to fall back on or you’re having a difficult time describing the noun so you resort to “thing,” your audience is never going to understand what you’re talking about. Readers will be too hung up on what the “thing” is.

Choose a more precise noun. If you don’t have one handy, you don’t have all the information you need to craft a proper piece of writing.

9. This or These

Like “thing,” “this” needs to be backed up. “This” and “these” are pronouns, so they need to point back to an idea that was already presented in the article.

Sure, it can be annoying to consistently write out an idea over and over — you should absolutely be able to use a pronoun to break up that kind of monotony. But you also need to make sure that your previous sentence clearly describes the idea that you’re demonstrating in your writing. If your previous sentence doesn’t describe what “this is, you need to rewrite one of your sentences.

10. Try

“Try” is especially important if you’re writing something that is persuasive or tells your readers what to do. You want readers to do something? Don’t tell them to try to do something; just tell them to do it. You’ll appear shaky and unsure of yourself if your writing doesn’t give explicit instructions.

Plus, “try” opens up your article for argument. Do you want readers to argue with you or listen to you? Some argument is great — it opens a healthy dialogue that you wouldn’t have had otherwise, but too much argument can be distracting.

When I was taking classes, my professors consistently told me to go back over my work before turning it in. I hated it because I was obviously too good and couldn’t have possibly made any mistakes.

I was wrong.

Editing or rewriting your content is one of the best things you can do to guarantee that your work is in the best possible shape before landing in front of your readers, earning social shares, or even receiving a shiny gold star from your manager. When your writing is concise and unique, people will pay more attention to what you’re saying instead of what you’re writing.

Focus on allowing yourself to avoid many of these words in your content creation — and streamline your entire content process at the same time. Download your custom editorial calendar below to get started:

Free Template Editorial Calendar and Content Promotion Plan. Organize your content creation and distribution process with this customizable template. (Image contents: a calendar positioned next to a clock, email, social media hashtag, social media like, and text bubble)

Picture of Seanna Tucker

About Seanna Tucker

Books, coffee, and learning are my passions in life — in that order. P.S. Take a stab at pronouncing my name. I dare you.


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