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How to use... The Overused Words Check

The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.
Published Apr 25, 2019

How to Use The Overused Words Check

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.

Mark Twain Quote on replacing very with damn

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.

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The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.

The most successful people in the world have coaches. Whatever your level of writing, ProWritingAid will help you achieve new heights. Exceptional writing depends on much more than just correct grammar. You need an editing tool that also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre. ProWritingAid helps you find the best way to express your ideas.

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By sbgandhi on 07 February 2016, 01:43 PM
Is there any way to add your own list of overused words for it to check too?
By spajonas on 29 September 2016, 09:24 PM
Overused words no longer works? Why?
By clsalaski on 09 March 2017, 07:51 PM
Just a tip, but it might be more helpful if in the description box (when you hover over a word) it would connect with the thesaurus.
By mariskaslieker on 30 November 2018, 11:25 AM
What is initial - ing? And why is it wrong?
By susan.e.mains on 28 February 2019, 09:31 PM
I also get flagged for this. I believe it is when you frequently start a sentence with a gerund (-ing word, such as "Talking things out allowed them to get a better idea of where their priorities differed." Not sure how insidious this is to one's style. Hopefully not too much, for my own sake.
By marcwilhelm on 17 January 2020, 06:04 PM
I don't understand why the word, "have," is bad to have in your writing, and how to replace it. Could you help with that? Thanks in advance!
By sharileekijiji on 15 August 2019, 06:31 PM
Why don't you answer the questions in the comments?
By cosmo19761 on 03 October 2019, 08:30 PM
Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. We have a large blog archive and are always working on creating exciting new content, so we do our best to keep up with comments.
By writersneed2 on 04 October 2019, 03:19 PM
What does the color-coding scheme mean in the overused word report?
By on 09 February 2020, 10:57 PM

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