Improve Your Writing: Avoid These 10 Unnecessary Words

April 30, 2020


We all know good writing. It’s the novel we can’t put down, the poem we never forgot and the speech that changes the way we look at the world. Good writing is also the email that gets action and the letter that is clear and concise.

In the workplace, writing can tell a lot about a person and organization. When an employee communicates in a well-written manner, he or she exudes professionalism, intellect and credibility. He or she represents the company well. When an employee writes poorly, it can have the opposite impact on him or her and the organization, which can affect career success and the organization’s brand.

“Use the right word, not its second cousin.”
 ~ Mark Twain

 In business writing, the language is concrete, the point of view is clear and the message is concise. Nothing more, nothing less. There are many unnecessary words (I call them “weasel words”) that can weaken our writing. These weasel words often present a less polished and professional result. They add nothing to a message and are unecessary.

Good writing is hard work, and even the best writers feel challenged. When you take the time to think about your words, review your copy and edit (and edit some more) you will convey excellence, confidence and credibility.

To improve your writing, rid these 10 unnecessary words:

  1. Really: “Really” is used to convey emphasis but doesn’t hold much weight. It’s vague and inadequate. For example, “Beth did a really wonderful job planning the meeting.” You have the same meaning when writing, “Beth did a wonderful job planning the meeting.” Ditch it from your writing.
  2. Very: This is a common weasel word found in emails, letters and memos and adds nothing to a message. Like “really,” “very” is used to emphasize but is weak at best. Let’s look at these two sentences. “The room is very loud.” “The room is loud.”  “Very” adds nothing to the sentence. Rid it from your writing.
  3. Things: This is another word that adds no value to your writing. It’s nondescriptive and unclear. It makes work for the reader in trying to interpret what is meant by “things.” For example, “Sue must bring a lot of things to the meeting.” This leaves me wondering what she must bring: lunches, packets, pens, paper, etc.? Be clear. “Sue must bring folders, easels, markers, snacks and beverages to the meeting.” Things” is a lazy word.

  4. That: “That” is a tricky word you must pay attention to when using. It’s often a crutch and can be eliminated. When considering the word, think about a better option. For example, “I saw the printer that was broken.” It’s better to write, “I saw the broken printer.” Here’s another example where “that” can be removed: “I apologize that I was late to yesterday’s meeting.” Better said, “I apologize I was late to yesterday’s meeting.” If the sentence expresses the same message without “that,” ditch it.
  5. So: “So” is a filler word with no meaning or depth. For example, “So, I’ll meet you in the conference room after lunch.” It’s crisper to write, “I’ll meet you in the conference room after lunch.” Delete “so” whenever possible.
  6. Actually: This is another word to strike from your written (and oral) communications. It communicates nothing of value. For example, “John actually answered the email today. It’s better to write, “John answered the email today.” The second sentence is to the point. Kick “actually” to the curb. 
  1. Literally: “Literally,” like the word “actually,” is a pointless word. It will make your writing less powerful. Wrong: “He literally walked into the office.” Right: “He walked in the office.” Refrain from using it in your writing. 
  1. Was/Is/Are/Am: These words are the form of “to be” and convey a passive voice. Active voice is preferred in business writing (and in most writing). It’s professional and allows for clear, concise communication. Here’s an example of passive writing: “The report was typed by Jill.” Here’s an example of active voice: “Jill typed the report.” Active tense is the way to go. 
  1. Just: Be mindful in your writing and avoid the word “just.” It’s another overused and unnecessary weasel word. For example, “In case I’m not at my desk, just leave the file on my chair.” Another example, “Just following-up on my email to confirm lunch.” In both sentences, “just” weakens the sentence. Remove “just” and be done with it. 
  1. Some: “Some” is often used in business writing. It’s needless and lacks clarity. For example, “Attached are some documents to review before the meeting.” It’s better to write: “Attached are two documents to review before the meeting.” Eradicate it from your writing.

Additional words to avoid in business writing include: frankly, hon­estly, truth­fully, quite, some­what, seems, utterly, prac­ti­cally, basi­cally and rather.

Contact Polished, today to fine-tune your communication skills.

Nancy SchnoebelenAbout the Author: Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs is an empowering professional development consultant, dynamic motivational speaker and author. Highly dedicated and results-oriented, she has the skill and passion for helping individuals become more confident and successful in business and beyond. She and her company Polished help clients focus on key adjustments that result in meaningful impact and effectiveness.

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