With almost all human communication being digital these days, it is important to choose your words wisely. It might not seem that important when you are chatting with your BFF in a text message, but I assure you that if you are writing a professional email or a term paper – word choice is critical. There are words that we all commonly use that we don’t even think about that can create vagueries, misconceptions, and flat-out make us sound simple in the head. In most cases, it is not what the word does by itself, but what the word takes away from the overall statement.
Here are eleven words to keep in mind the next time you are writing something that matters. (And yes, I am as guilty as anyone else on every one of these words)
Very is one of those words that is, well, very easy to overuse. Basically, if you are using an accurate adjective you shouldn’t need a qualifier. Instead of saying something like, “I am very excited”, use a better descriptor like, “I am ecstatic.” “I am very hungry,” sounds better as “I am famished.” Eliminating this verbal “short-cut” also allows you to be more specific. For instance, instead of saying, “it’s very hot”, be specific: “it is 105 degrees outside.” This is one very easy change to make in your writing that can have a big impact.
By saying “honestly” before a statement, you are implying that nothing else you’ve said prior to that statement is honest. An exception to this rule would be if you’ve just made a sarcastic statement, and are clarifying or correcting yourself. Honestly, I struggle with this one too.
The problem with the usage of “that” is that it is often unnecessary in the sentence. One easy trick here is to read a sentence with the word “that” in it, and then see if the sentence sounds better without it. Often times you’ll find that you can re-write a sentence with the word “that” in it, and end up with a better sentence. For example, the original title of this article was “11 Words to Drop from your Vocabulary that Make You Sound Smarter.” Can’t break my own rule in the title, right? That would be absurd.
Using the word always locks you into whatever statement you are making. Unless it is truly something happens 100% of the time, be more descriptive when making statements about occurrences. One instance where always is okay is when giving specific commands. “Always” check for this one. The Same goes for “never”.
This is a word that drives me crazy when I see or hear it being overused or used incorrectly. Most of the time when people say “literally” they actually mean “figuratively.” We have all heard someone say something like, “I literally thought I was going to die.” No, you didn’t – you figuratively thought you were going to die unless your life was in actual peril. This one literally drives me crazy
Amazing is a word that is defined as “causing great surprise or sudden wonder”. Considering that amazing is synonymous with wonderful, startling, incredible, marvelous, astonishing, remarkable, miraculous, staggering, and mind-blowing – it is a word that is severely overused. Remember, if everything is “amazing”, then technically nothing is. It is amazing how often I see this one.
These are the two most generic words you can use as descriptors. Take the time to explain what you are talking about. Unless, that is, that you are trying to be purposefully vague, which no one likes.
Straddling the fence in life is annoying enough, don’t do it in your writing. Focus on the point that you are making or the statement you are trying to convey, and stick with it. Taking shortcuts in your writing makes you sound like you don’t care about whatever it is you are talking about, and maybe you don’t – but don’t expect anyone else to, either.
Even when this word was trendy in the mid-90’s, it was annoying. “Really” is just about the laziest way to emphasize a verb, adverb, or adjective that exists in the English language. Again, lazy writing gets a lazy response. Spice your writing up with vivid words, and accurate descriptors. It will really help you response.