“In the digital age, short writing is king,”
says Roy Peter Clark, president of journalism think tank the Poynter Institute and author of How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times.
People don’t have attention spans for fluff. They don’t want to read language that’s verbose. That’s why, today more than ever, concise online writing is key.
Write tighter, and you communicate better and faster. So as a follow-up to this post, here are 10 more words to think twice about before writing:
- That. The word “that” is often unnecessary to the meaning of a sentence. What’s the difference between “I like the shirt you bought me” and “I like the shirt that you bought me,” for example? If you can cut “that” without losing meaning, do it. Short writing is king.
- Basically. Sometimes when a writer uses “basically,” it’s to communicate a sense of incompleteness. Consider “I ate the pie” versus “I basically ate the pie.” In the first, the meaning is clear. In the second, we’re left to wonder if the speaker only ate part. Often, however, a writer uses “basically” as filler-“Basically, what you need to do is tell the truth.” If it doesn’t add meaning, cut it.
- Honestly. If you need to add “honestly” to a statement, what does that say about the rest of your words? Were they not honest? Cut this word.
- Actually. When something is, in actuality, true, you don’t need to add the word “actually” to say so. The only time you need to use “actually” is when it clarifies a doubt the reader will have about what you say (i.e., if he or she is apt to think you’re joking or unsure).
- Went. There’s nothing wrong with the word “went,” except that the English language is filled with clearer, more informative ways to communicate in its place. Instead of “I went to the store,” try “I drove to the store” or “I walked six blocks to the store.” Instead of saying your son “went to school today,” use the verb to convey more information, as in “he loved his painting class at school today” or “he visited a local farm on a field trip.“
- You Know. “You know” may be two words, but it’s used in conversations like one-and now in writing, too. This phrase is acceptable in casual writing between friends, where “you know” adds a personal, informal touch. In professional writing, however, it sounds lazy. Cut it out.
- Great. Instead of calling yet another something “great,” try stretching outside your adjective comfort zone and using a more inventive word instead. Rather than a “great milkshake,” talk about a milkshake that’s thick and frothy. Instead of a “great program,” describe a new initiative as community-focused and seasonal.
- Nice. The sister to “great” is “nice.” What does it mean? Beyond conveying a vague sense of the positive, “nice” does little for your writing. Try replacing it with a clearer, more specific word instead.
- Awesome. Using “awesome” to describe everything from a piece of toast to an email has trivialized its meaning over time. What was originally intended to mean “causing feelings of fear and wonder and awe” now means little more than “cool.” Avoid it.
- Then. Almost always, cutting the word “then” from your writing won’t change its meaning. “I announced the merger, and then I called a meeting” is the same as “I announced the merger, and I called a meeting,” for example. In both cases, it’s clear that one action follows another. For this reason, cutting “then” is usually best.
As every writer knows, words have meaning-but when words are tossed around carelessly, their meanings are easily lost. Don’t be a lazy writer. Give thought to the specific terms and phrases you use, particularly the ones featured in this post. Tighten your writing, and you maximize its power.