Writers should be wary of many words and phrases in the English language that are indicative of poor writing style.
Intensifiers like "very", for example, actually weaken your writing, or hesitant words like "just" or "maybe" make your writing feel unconvincing. Words like these are fine in moderation, but when overused can undermine your ideas. In this report, we'll flag the problematic words and phrases that are commonly overused by writers, and help you to eliminate them. As you work through them, you will be begin to recognize and avoid using them in the first place.
Most of the words we flag fall into four main categories:
1) Too Wishy-Washy
Words like “could”, “might” and “maybe” are indefinite in their meaning. “I could bring a salad to dinner” feels hesitant and unsure, whereas “I will bring a salad to dinner” feels resolute. If your writing is peppered with these non-specific words, it will feel unconvincing. Try to limit your use of these undefined words to times when they are really necessary and replace them with definite words when you are able.
2) Telling Rather Than Showing
Words like “knew”, “felt” and “saw” tend to be indicative of “telling” rather than “showing”. Instead of saying that “John knew that Jason was lying”, say “Jason avoided John’s eyes as he stammered ‘I don’t know where it is’“. If you use too many “telling” words, your writing will be less evocative. Read more about the “Show, don’t tell” rule here.
3) Depending on Intensifiers Instead of Finding Stronger Words
Intensifiers like “very”, “so” and “really” add little to your reader’s understanding. Writers use them when they are trying to give strength to a dull word. Instead, replace your weak words with something strong enough that you don’t need the “very”. Instead of saying she was “very pretty”, say she was “stunning”. Instead of saying it’s “so hot”, say it is “stifling”.
4) Nonspecific Words
Some of the most common words in English are nearly meaningless. If someone reads a book and says it was “interesting”, that tells you almost nothing. Was it well-written? Was the argument convincing? It’s not even clear if they enjoyed reading it. Interesting could mean a million different things. Where possible, choose words that have precise meanings and talk about specifics. Your writing will be much more compelling.
Use ProWritingAid’s Overused Words Report to highlight all of those words that you don't want to overuse in your text. We’re not, of course, suggesting that you need to cut or replace all of them; rather, they just require a little extra re-examination to make sure that they are your best option.
You can also add your own particular words that you know you overuse to help break bad habits.