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Eliminate These 5 Words to Improve Your Writing Today

What is the one change I can make to improve my writing?

I hear this question at least once a week, typically many, many more times. My first answer relates to using the comma correctly because the message becomes clearer, engaging your readers.

My second answer advises clients to eliminate weak words and replace them with impactful ones. Easier said than done, I know, but once you recognize the trigger words, you elevate your writing by providing your audience with a more vivid mental picture. As you know, these are written words, not visuals on a screen. You, the author, set the scene for the reader with your descriptive words. They create the image, but you present the information.

For the good of humanity, please remove these 5 words from your writing!

1. Got

Everyone has pet peeves, right? Well, the word ‘got’ tops my list! What does the word mean? Thesauraus.com provides 220 words as possible substitutions in addition to phrases such as “come into possession of,” “fall victim to,” and “have an effect on.” With all these alternative words, why use “got”? By the way, ‘got’ is past tense of ‘get,’ so yes, ‘get’ is on my taboo list as well.

Example 1

I got the last seat on the plane.

Example 1 – rephrased

I took the last seat on the plane, which happened to be a middle seat in the last row.

Example 2

Sorry I’m late! I got stuck in traffic.

Example 2 – rephrased

Sorry I’m late! Traffic was bumper to bumper because of a rollover accident.

Example 3

“[I]t got laid down for you.”

Example 3 – rephrased

Management lays down the plan for you.

Do you see how replacing the weak words provides an increased picture of what is going on? These changes provide a more vivid image of the scene. Believe it or not, I found Example 3 in a New York Times Best Seller!

These examples merely touch the tip of the iceberg. Do me a favor, will you? The next time you write an email, post, or book, please search for ‘got’ and ‘get,’ replacing as many as you can with stronger words.

2. Be

Replace ‘be’ and all its conjugations and forms – am, are, is, being, and there are. As it happens, ‘there are’ appears second on my writing pet peeve list. The thesaurus has 30 alternatives for the various forms of ‘be.’

Example 4

I’m afraid I cannot do that.

Example 4 – rephrased

Because of the time commitment involved, I cannot accept this job.

Yes, sometimes it takes more than replacing a word. In your mind, which is more impactful?

Example 5

There are many ways to cook a chicken.

Example 5 – rephrased

Many techniques exist for cooking a chicken, providing flexibility when meal planning.

Example 6

I am going to the grocery later this afternoon.

Example 6 – rephrased

When I go to the grocery this afternoon, I will buy more coffee.

3. Have

Although ‘have’ is a legitimate word and necessary in certain cases, many people use it as a crutch. ‘Will’ and ‘can’ also follow this same pattern. ‘Will’ provides a way to represent the future. In this sense, use it without concern like in the rephrased Example 6. However, I see these words used unnecessarily. If the sentence makes sense without the word, then remove it.

Example 7

We have gone over this time and time again without any resolution.

Example 7 – rephrased

We continuously discussion this topic without coming to a resolution.

The rephrased sentences produce a more accurate representation of what occurred. The word ‘continuously’ provides a more streamlined description.

Example 8

I have added one more comment.

Example 8  – rephrased

I added another comment.

Example 9

He had gone to San Francisco last year.

Example 9 – rephrased

He went to San Francisco last year.

4. Help

‘Help’ sounds like a useful word, doesn’t it? From a young age, we learn that by helping others, we become better people. In life, I agree. In writing, I completely disagree. Removing this word makes statements more powerful. As with the other forbidden words, use ‘help’ when necessary, but try to find a more powerful word.

Example 10

We talked to numerous people to help identify the options.

Example 10 – rephrased

We talked to numerous people to identify the options.

5. Do

Again, certain words make me cringe, and ‘do’ completes my list.

Example 11

If you do go to the bakery, get me a baguette.

Example 11 – rephrased

If you go to the bakery, buy me a baguette.

Example 12

I do want to warn you.

Example 12 – rephrased

I caution you.

Situations exist when you want to emphasize the word “do.” If this is the case, consider italicizing it to make your point.

How to correct the situation

These words compile the top offenders in my book. Removing them elevates your writing to a higher level, which is more easily understood by your readers. Now that you know these words, I hope they stick out. However, tools exist to spot them easier.

Most editors use tools to augment their manual reviews, merely as a second set of eyes. Bad editors use them as the only review. Avoid those editors!

Use these four tools when editing:

When baffled and looking for a replacement word, whom do I turn to? A thesaurus is a writer’s best friend! Seriously, while I do not always find the exact word I need, this site provides a new direction for me to think about. Duplicate words make text boring. Spice up your vocabulary and make reading more enjoyable for your audience.

Most people use an online dictionary, but I receive immense pleasure from turning the pages of my Webster’s dictionary from the year 1942. Being two steps from my desk makes it within easy reach and a comforting sight.

“Do not use computerized tools. All edits must be done by a human.” I read this frequently in job descriptions for editors. What rubbish! Would the same person also request, “Write an app but do not test it with online scripts.” Or, “Build me a car, but do not use any computer equipment to test it.”

I understand the principle of what they want, or at least I think I do. These clients only want humans to edit because computer editors only go so far. And, I agree. However, Grammarly, even the free version, provides a second set of unobjective eyes. I, as the human, must accept or reject the suggested changes – a subjective decision based on the context, tone, and voice.

Now, this somewhat unusual tool supplies much feedback for writers and editors. This website includes information such as word and character count, average sentence length, paragraphs, estimated reading time, and reading level. For this post, I only focus on the keyword density feature.

This tool makes identifying duplicate words a piece of cake. Not only does it list repeated single words but also two and three-word combinations. When used over time, you may notice patterns for your word choices. For example, if ‘about’ appears in the list every time, then you probably overuse that word. Use this site to increase your awareness of your writing.

Note: I use an ad blocker. If you do not, then irritating ads may appear. Some of my clients complain about this.

Hint: Bookmark these sites for easy access. For serious writers or editors, use these tools as part of your arsenal but never rely on them. In my opinion, read all text out loud before sending it. Yes, this includes emails and texts!

You are the final judge

Sometimes, these words must remain in the sentence because no easy rewording exists. I merely ask you to search your text and remove as many as possible. Apologies in advance if these words trigger a response when you read other books, posts, and newspapers. However, this knowledge provides you with an opportunity to judge their usage for yourself. Maybe ‘help’ remains in your writing vocabulary. Fine, but judge the appropriateness in each situation.

Technical writing and novel writing present unique challenges and require different choices. For example, SEO requires some repetition of words. Do not use that strategy to the detriment of your writing or conveying your message. What good is driving traffic to your site only to be turned off by the repetitive wording?

For novels, you want more colorful and descriptive prose. Imagine reading “There was a car. It was red. It got towed.” No, just no. Know your audience, and write in a style that engages them.

Conclusion

Yes, eliminating these words makes writing slower and harder, but the words convey a stronger, more concise message. Do not make the reader work so hard by needing them to parse out unnecessary words. They will appreciate your efforts, and you will grow as a writer. Trust me. I know how hard this is! Writing this post was the most difficult job for me to date because I needed to follow every rule I put in place. Again, none of these words entirely disappear from writing but eliminate as many as possible.

Interested in adding words to this list? If so, leave a comment below!

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Samantha MasonComment