What do the following sentences have in common?
- I had such a good day today!
- You’re bad at shuffleboard.
- You did a great job on that project.
- This new book I’m reading is excellent.
- The soup tastes wonderful.
One thing. They all contain words that are boring and overused!
I named just a few–there are many more. Used effectively, these simple words can have power and impact, but in general they’ve become stale from overuse. If you limit yourself only to these stock words, you sound inarticulate and unoriginal.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard. I default to these words in my writing all the time. I think most of us do, and that’s okay. What matters, though, is that once you’re past your initial draft, you clarify your writing and find more appropriate words.
It’s Not About Being Fancy
I don’t advocate that you necessarily use larger, more ornate words, but only that you use the best words you can.
Sometimes, the most impactful words might be the simplest:
You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.
-Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
In this context, “bad” is effective. Any other word would be too formal or fancy (this makes sense in the book as well since most of its characters speak plainly and straightforwardly).
Usually. though, you can and should aim to be specific!
How To Be Specific
Let’s take “great” as an example. This word is so overused that it’s meaningless in most situations. When you describe something as “great,” what do you mean? Why is it great, exactly? What distinguishes it from other similar things?
Usually, you can find a better word just in the process of answering these questions.
Thus, the vapid phrase, “You did a great job on that project” could be expressed more concretely one of the following ways:
- “The copy you wrote for that project was clear and persuasive.”
- “Your electric car design was the most efficient yet.”
- “Your TPS report followed the guidelines to the letter.”
You’ll notice that in making the statement more specific, you may end up rewriting the entire sentence. That’s okay. Vague words such as “great” usually mask a lack of specific knowledge or understanding, so a rewriting will add those details in addition to just changing a few words around.
Why This Matters
If you want your writing to stand out in the crowded world of online content, you have to write clearly and concisely.
Removing meaningless words leaves the most important thing: your message.
Anything else is just a distraction.
If you have any questions about grammar, writing, or the book, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.