Newsprint is on life support,
emoji are multiplying faster
than hungry Gremlins, and 300
million people worldwide strive
to make their point in 140 or
fewer characters.
People don’t have the time or
the attention span to read any
more words than necessary.
You want your readers to hear
you out, understand your
message, and perhaps be
entertained, right? Here’s a list
of words to eliminate to help
you write more succinctly.
1. That
It’s superfluous most of the
time. Open any document
you’ve got drafted on your
desktop, and find a sentence
with “that” in it. Read it out
loud. Now read it again without
“that.” If the sentence works
without it, delete it. Also? Don’t
use “that” when you refer to
people. “I have several friends
that live in the neighborhood.”
No. No, you don’t. You have
friends who. Not friends that.
2. Went
I went to school. Or the store,
or to church, or to a
conference, to Vegas, wherever
it is you’re inclined to go.
Instead of “went,” consider
drove, skated, walked, ran, flew.
There are any number of ways
to move from here to there.
Pick one. Don’t be lazy and
miss the chance to add to your
3. Honestly
People use “honestly” to add
emphasis. The problem is, the
minute you tell your reader this
particular statement is honest,
you’ve implied the rest of your
words were not. #Awkward
4. Absolutely
Adding this word to most
sentences is redundant.
Something is either necessary,
or it isn’t. Absolutely necessary
doesn’t make it more
necessary. If you recommend
an essential course to your new
employees, it’s essential.
Coincidentally, the definition of
essential is absolutely
necessary. Chicken or egg, eh?
5. Very
Accurate adjectives don’t need
qualifiers. If you need to qualify
it? Replace it. “Very” is
intended to magnify a verb, an
adjective, or another adverb.
What it does is makes your
statement less specific. If
you’re very happy? Be ecstatic.
If you’re very sad, perhaps
you’re melancholy or
depressed. Woebegone, even.
Very sad is a lazy way of making
your point. Another pitfall of
using very as a modifier? It’s
subjective. Very cold and very
tall mean different things to
different people. Be specific.
She’s 6’3″ and it’s 13 degrees
below freezing? These make
your story better while also
ensuring the reader
understands the point you’re
6. Really
Unless you’re a Valley Girl,
visiting from 1985, there’s no
need to use “really” to modify
an adjective. Or a verb. Or an
adverb. Pick a different word to
make your point. And never
repeat “really,” or “very” for
that matter. That’s really, really
bad writing.
If you are visiting from 1985?
Please bring the birth
certificate for my Cabbage
Patch Doll on your next visit.
7. Amazing
The word means “causing great
surprise or sudden wonder.”
It’s synonymous with
wonderful, incredible, startling,
marvelous, astonishing,
astounding, remarkable,
miraculous, surprising, mind-
blowing, and staggering. You
get the point, right? It’s
everywhere. It’s in corporate
slogans. It dominated the
Academy Awards acceptance
speeches. It’s all over social
media. It’s discussed in pre-
game shows and post-game
Newsflash: If everything is
amazing, nothing is.
8. Always
Absolutes lock the writer into a
position, sound conceited and
close-minded, and often open
the door to criticism regarding
inaccuracies. Always is rarely
true. Unless you’re giving
written commands or
instruction, find another word.
9. Never
See: Always.
10. Literally
“Literally” means literal.
Actually happening as stated.
Without exaggeration. More
often than not, when the term
is used, the writer means
“figuratively.” Whatever is
happening is being described
metaphorically. No one actually
“waits on pins and needles.”
How uncomfortable would that
11. Just
It’s a filler word and it makes
your sentence weaker, not
stronger. Unless you’re using it
as a synonym for equitable,
fair, even-handed, or impartial,
don’t use it at all.
12. Maybe
This makes you sound
uninformed, unsure of the
facts you’re presenting.
Regardless of the topic, do the
legwork, be sure, write an
informed piece. The only thing
you communicate when you
include these words is
13. Stuff
This word is casual, generic
even. It serves as a placeholder
for something better. If the
details of the stuff aren’t
important enough to be
included in the piece? Don’t
reference it at all. If you tell
your reader to take your course
because they’ll learn a lot of
stuff? They’re likely to tell you
to stuff it.
14. Things
See: Stuff.
15. Irregardless
This doesn’t mean what you
think it means, jefe. It means
regardless. It is literally (see
what I did there?) defined as:
regardless. Don’t use it. Save
yourself the embarrassment.
Whether you’re ghostwriting
for your CEO, updating a
corporate blog, selling a
product, or finishing your
doctoral thesis, you want to
keep your reader engaged.
These 15 words are a great
place to start trimming the fat
from your prose. Bonus? You’ll
sound smarter.

15 Words You Should Eliminate From Your Vocabulary To Sound Smart


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