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How to Become a Better Writer: 6 Words and Phrases to Avoid

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 15, 2020 • 3 min read

When you sit down to write an article, essay, or novel, you’re faced with a series of choices. What’s the most effective way to begin? Which argument is the most persuasive? The most important choice you can make as a writer is your choice of words. Fuzzy word choice and extraneous phrases can make your writing weaker and harder to understand.



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6 Words and Phrases to Avoid in Your Writing

Whether you’re a writer of novels and short stories, a teacher proofreading a research paper or other academic writing, or a content marketing specialist trying to eliminate weak words from your infographic, there are certain unnecessary words you should eliminate that can improve any piece of writing. Here is a list of words to avoid, as well as some general writing and editing tips to follow in order to become a better writer:

  1. “Very”: Though “very” is meant to be an intensifier, it is clunky and provides no additional information beyond the word it’s magnifying. If you find yourself writing that someone is “very hungry” or “very tired,” it’s likely a sign that you should be choosing stronger adjectives. Instead of “very hungry,” try “famished.” Instead of “very tired,” try “exhausted.” Substituting “very” with stronger adjectives will help decrease your word count, make stronger word choices, and develop a sharper writing style.
  2. “Is” and other “to be” verbs: “To be” verbs, including “is,” “am,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “being,” and “been,” are among the most common words in the English language. That means they’re also among the most overused and should be rejected in favor of stronger verbs. Oftentimes, “to be” verbs are a sign of passive voice, which results in needlessly complex sentence structure. Here’s a good example: Why write “The line was flubbed by Alex” when you could write “Alex flubbed the line”? Active voice helps eliminate useless words while making the sentence more dynamic and easier to understand.
  3. “Thing”: “Thing” is a vague word—it can mean many different things, and vague words force the reader to spend extra time and effort to determine their meaning. When a writer uses words like “thing” and “stuff,” they’re often ignoring a potential replacement word that’s far more vivid and clear. Whether your preferred medium is fiction writing, copywriting, or online writing like blogging, one of the most common writing mistakes you can make is using “thing” and “stuff” instead of a word with more specificity.
  4. Redundant phrases: “Join together.” “Armed gunman.” “Unexpected surprise” are all examples of redundant phrases (not to mention clichés). These unnecessarily wordy phrases can cause a reader to become distracted, and editors will often ask writers to get the same point across in fewer words. If you notice any of these phrases in your first draft, you should eliminate them in your rewriting process.
  5. Extra words and crutch phrases: When it comes to the English language, native speakers tend to use extraneous words and filler phrases in their everyday speech. Bloggers and long-form writers alike should try to eliminate these phrases from their writing. Removing filler phrases like “at the end of the day” and “in spite of the fact” will help you use fewer words and improve the overall clarity and efficiency of your writing.
  6. Prepositional phrases: Prepositions are frequently necessary to indicate the relationship between nouns, pronouns, and action verbs, but writers who are overly reliant on prepositional phrases can find themselves writing needlessly long and complex sentences. Thus, one of the most essential writing skills you can develop is the ability to excise prepositional phrases from your work. If you find yourself staring at a sentence with a bunch of prepositional phrases, try shifting to active voice, substituting adverbs, or omitting nominalizations.

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