Write Powerfully: Avoid Useless Words and Phrases
By Judy Vorfeld
“Reckless writers and slipshod speakers use many words where few would do,“says Owl Editing. “Yet for all the words, their expression is but impoverished; more words do not necessarily signify more meaning.”
Do you publish a newsletter, have a website, or write articles or reviews? If so, you’re already doing your best to publish well. But if you aren’t certain that you’re succeeding, here are a few tips that might help.
The Wrong Words Can Weaken Sentences and Thoughts
Try to keep your sentences crisp and clear. Tight. Many words and phrases are very, very unnecessary. Really. In fact, sometimes words and phrases weaken sentences.
Examples of words to avoid when you’re trying to write with strength: well, frankly, actually, honestly, truthfully, really, quite, so, very, somewhat, seems, utterly, practically, basically, and rather.
Sometimes we’re tempted to use weak or unnecessary words and phrases in an effort to sound friendly or informal. And sometimes it’s okay to do that. It depends on the audience.
Here are a few phrases worth omitting (most of the time): “I think,” “kind of,” “sort of,” “in my opinion,” “needless to say,” and “no doubt.”
Look at the above phrases. What value do they have? They’re often useless fillers, and using them (in writing or speaking) can be a form of procrastination. Get to the issues!
Having said that words weaken, there are times when you must use diplomacy, and you may need to use words like “seems,” “appears,” and “somewhat.” Again, it depends on the context. (Some businesses may say, “It appears that there is an error in your accounting records” rather than “Pay your bill, you deadbeat!” or “We’ve discovered some discrepancies in our books,” rather than “Get ready for a visit with a grand jury.”)
Redundant Words & Phrases
Use redundant phrases sparingly (or omit) in business correspondence, articles, and other written documents. Here are a few that people use regularly:
- 12 midnight (midnight)
- 12 noon (noon)
- Absolutely essential (essential)
- Added bonus (bonus)
- Both of them (both)
- Crystal clear (clear)
- End result (result)
- Exact same (exact or same)
- Fewer in number (fewer)
- Final outcome (outcome)
- Free give-away or free gift (give-away or gift)
- Inasmuch as (since, because)
- Past history (history will work most of the time)
- Point in time (point, time, or then)
- There is no doubt that (how about “clearly”?)
- Until such time as (until)
Make Your Paragraphs Interesting
Not only do we need to write clearly and tightly, we also need to make paragraphs interesting. When possible, avoid all short sentences or all long sentences in a paragraph. Vary them. (I just did so in this paragraph).
It’s not necessary to do this with every paragraph, but such structure helps the reader move along. And avoid huge paragraphs like the plague. In the business world, people often skip over long paragraphs. We have many options to make our documents interesting to busy people: bullets, numbers, indenting, bolding, and italicizing, for example, along with headings and sub-headings that can be in contrasting fonts and varied sizes.
Strive to have all your documents become minor works of art. Let them convey the message efficiently, without wasting the reader’s time. Balance messages on the page. Big assignment? No. You can do it!
Here are three sites with tips to help you make every word count: