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Five Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective

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I can’t stand frail, weak writing. And neither can you.

You know when you’ve read content that compels you to do something that matters and when something bores you to tears. You may just not know exactly why.

And you need to be able to identify those words that weaken your writing so that you can stamp them out of your vocabulary.

Weak Words in Writing

Photo credit: Jon Clegg (Creative Commons)

Words are the lifeblood of your writing. They’re what you use to build credibility or diminish it.

Words matter. They’re what make your arguments more compelling, your prose stronger, and your craft more captivating.

Untrained writers can be careless with their words. It takes discipline to use these tools well.

Weak Words and How to Fix Them

Here are five lazy words that make your writing weaker and how to fix them:

“Stuff”

Stuff is a lazy word. Only use it sparingly when you’re intentionally trying to be informal.

Instead, use a more descriptive noun.

“Things”

Things is another lazy word. People often overuse it. While not always inappropriate, it also should be used on rare occasions.

Things is nondescript and can often be replaced with much better nouns, such as “reasons” or “elements” or “issues” and so on…

“Got”

Got is a terrible verb. It means “obtaining something” or can also be used as a helping verb like have. More often than not, got can usually go away.

Instead of saying “I got up”, say “I woke up.”

Instead of saying, “I got a baseball”, say, “I have a baseball” or “I found a baseball.”

Not only is got a lazy word; it is also vague. In the last sentence does “got” mean “found” or “have”?

“Was/Is/Are/Am”

Often people will say something like, “I was there” or “We were at the party.”

In these cases, the writers are using different versions of the verb to be when they could be employing better action words.

For example, you could instead say, “I stood silently in the kitchen” or “My wife and I arrived late to the party.”

“Went”

Went is like are. There are a hundred other verbs that you could exchange for went.

Instead of saying, “I went to the store,” you could say, “I walked to the store” or, “I drove my car to buy some groceries at the store.”

Went is a lame word — vague, boring, lackluster.

As are am, got, stuff, and things. Here are a few more words and phrases to use sparingly:

  • very
  • all
  • important
  • used to
  • every
  • never
  • feel
  • seem
  • think
  • often
  • almost
  • big
  • small
  • have got
  • just

Stop using them in your writing.

Or at very least, think twice before whipping out a simplistic, overused word like are.

Words lose their meaning when we use them carelessly. Take your time, carefully considering how you will utilize the best words possible.

When you write, your copy wields great potential. Don’t squander it.

What are some other weak words that make your writing less effective? I’m sure I didn’t cover them all. Share your thoughts in the comments.

*Photo credit: Jon Clegg (Creative Commons)

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • LaTonya Young

    This is useful material to know in my writing. I was overly using a lot of these words.

  • Rachel Marsden

    My naughty words are: ‘also’, ‘though’ and ‘a lot’. When I edit I use the search function to chase these out.

  • http://handycrowd.com/ Ian Anderson

    Shoot, I use stuff to describe a lot of erm…..stuff in my DIY book!

    Stephen King said in his book, ‘on writing’ that we shouldn’t use words that end in ‘ly’, as your prose should be good enough to indicate mood without resorting to a multitude of adverbs.

    New to the blog so ‘Hi Jeff!’
    Ian

  • Ann Daniel

    Good morning,

    First I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment about Words to cut from your writing:

    “Just” is a filler word that weakens your writing and removing it rarely affects.

    “Really” its an example for writing by the way you talk, think of
    the difference between saying “the rock is hard” and “the rock
    is really hard”

    “Very” its the same as “really”

    “perhaps/maybe” you don’t want the readers feel that you are not sure of what you are saying

    “quite” Sometimes the word adds meaning; sometimes it’s fluff

    “Amazing” it is used to describe surprise or great
    wonder but some writers often uses this word that the meaning gets lost.

    Sincerely,

    Ann Daniel

  • jen

    ‘Got up’ and ‘woke up’ aren’t interchangeable for me (in England). I often wake up some time before actually getting up :) What’s wrong with ‘got up?’ Does it sound to colloquial or informal?

  • Sonya Grady

    wondered…she wondered, he wondered. We know they’re thinking, just chop off the useless verb. Instead of, “He wondered where they went.” Use, “Where did they go?”

  • Michelle Hutchinson

    Another word I edit out of a lot of writing is “quite.” Novices tend to use that almost as much as “very.”

  • http://www.warrenbaldwin.blogspot.com/ Warren Baldwin

    The stuff you wrote about here got me to thinking about things in a fresh way. Good post.

  • dedee

    From the author:
    “And you need to be able to identify those words that weaken your writing so that you can stamp them out of your vocabulary.”

    Please note the extraneous — second — use of the word “that” in the original author’s post.
    That use of the word THAT should be added to the list.

  • Tracy Shroyer

    Not sure why, but I found myself using, “So, …” to start sentences. Put a stop to that recently when I heard something on TV about how conversations should not start out with that, as it is more of a filler. I also remember having a conversation with a VP where I said, “I think…” then tried to make a definitive statement. He responded, “Do you think, or do you know?” I am cautious of using those types of words – think, might, etc. ever since.

  • Melody H. Mitchell

    I really appreciate this guide, but as a new writer – I’ve noticed considering these words is causing me to hesitate in my writing whether I would use the words or not (and I probably use plenty). I must accept that because I’m truly (yes…an ly word…) new to this I need to simply make myself write, no matter if it is weak. Once I get comfortable, maybe then I will revisit and hone my skills. Hello, my name is Melody and I am a weak writer!

  • Christina

    Thanks for the reminder about weak words. As a previous technical writer (now spending more time on creative writing) I consistently weeded out “There are” and “There is.” This list you’ve provided will improve my editor’s lens in my revision process. As for the word stuff – I do agree it is a weak word. But recently I used it about 25 times in a blog post. Once even in the title! I’m leaving it in in that case as otherwise the post wouldn’t make much sense.

    http://www.tumbleweedsandseeds.com

  • Anita

    Thank you, a great list to keep in mind.

  • Laura

    As a new blogger, I will keep these words close in order to be a better writer. I am stressing out as I type this comment for fear of using the incorrect words. I will now end this message and put the list next to my computer. :) http://www.cyberforward.com

  • http://www.positivelydreaming.com/ Sarah

    This is such a good reminder of, as you so rightly point out, what we all knew back in high school. Blogging sometimes makes it especially easy to slip into such habits because it’s a fast-paced medium, but ANY medium that displays your voice should be treated with respect. I will now make a greater effort to watch for such insidiousness! After all, the whole point of my blog is to achieve the best in writing, life, home and love … mediocrity has no place.

  • Nick

    I think your assessment of the word “got” is unfair. “I got up” and “I woke up” don’t necessarily mean the same thing. “I got up” can refer to the physical act of raising yourself out of bed, while “I woke up” simply means to not be asleep anymore… anyone with a penchant for lying in bed for at least an hour after waking knows this. And I have never seen “got” used to men “found”. “I got a baseball” could be used (incorrectly) to mean “I have a baseball”, but it could just as easily mean “I received a baseball”. In formal writing, such a use of “got” would be inappropriate because it is vague. In spoken language or informal writing, however, where context clues abound it really depends on what information is deemed most important. If merely having a baseball is what is important for the reader/listener, then you should use “have” rather than “got”. But if it is important to know that you received or purchased a baseball, “got” would be more appropriate than “have”.

    “Got” is not a bad word. Some of its uses are.

    • Lynne R McAnulty-Street

      @ Nick – sorry, I should’ve read the replies before posting my own, as you covered the same point I wanted to make when you wrote…
      “I got a baseball” could be used (incorrectly) to mean “I have a baseball”, but it could just as easily mean “I received a baseball”. ” We’re on the same page here!

  • thesethingsisjuststuff

    I am not convinced that these words are especially weak. Stuff and Things, if used to be appropriately vague, are fine. Such as: “I want all of the things”. It is a weird sentence but playful, and you immediately understand what the writer is trying to say. In my mind, you use the words that make your readership best understand what you are trying to convey. Otherwise, it is not an exercise in “appropriate” writing, but rather “correct” writing, for its own sake. I simply do not subscribe to that type of, sorry to say- and I almost apologize for saying it-, snob-ism. There, I said it.

    I love words. LOVE EM! But I use the words my readers will best relate to. That is more important, in the end.

  • Cierra

    In high school, one of my teachers convinced me to erase the word WAS from my vocabulary. I loved writing when as a kid, and I still write now. But I find it very difficult to write considering I’m self conscious of the word, and now after reading this, the thought of being a ‘weak writer’. I try my best to go through and replace as many of these words as possible. I just find it very challenging when everyone tells you not to use the them, but don’t give enough tools to help you fix it. I guess I’ll just stick to poetry, where I can write my own rules.

  • Lynne R McAnulty-Street

    The word I most often find myself culling from books I edit is ‘that’ — as in “He knew that she was ,,, blah blah.” How much snappier to simply write — He knew she was …”
    B T W – I noted a wee omission from your coverage of ‘got’. Got can also used for ‘was given’, as in “I was given a new skateboard, and a …” — which is passive writing, [Gasp!]

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