There are some words and sentence constructions that are fine to use occasionally, but become problematic when they are overused. They fall into five 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.
5) Awkward Sentence Constructions
Certain sentence constructions should also not be overused. For example, too many sentences that begin with an “-ing" word will make your writing feel overly complicated. This sentence construction tends to put your main idea at the end instead of at the beginning. “Training for the marathon, I sprained my ankle” is not wrong, but “I sprained my ankle training for the marathon” is simpler to read.
Use ProWritingAid’s Overused Words Report to highlight all of those words and sentence constructs 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.
This and other great tips for using ProWritingAid are included in our ebook: 20 Editing Tips From Professional Writers. Download it for free now!