While watching a recording of a live event for the design industry yesterday, one of the speakers surprised me when she mentioned how she became a stronger writer by eliminating one word from her communications.
As soon as she mentioned the word (I'll tell you what it is in a minute), another four or five words popped into my mind, and I knew I had note them, and then share them here with you.
But I also want to add a word of caution, because there are times when you WILL need to use these words. They exist for a reason.
The point is to be aware of the words, to evaluate how you use them, and then to delete them when they add bulk but not meaning.
Your desire, always, must be to communicate your message as clearly and concisely as possible. If you need one of these forbidden words to make a point clear, use it! As with all rules, these rules were made to be broken as needed.
This is the word the speaker mentioned. She's right. The word "just," in many instances, weakens or undercuts whatever you're saying.
BUT -- don't cut "just" from your writing everywhere; sometimes you need the word there for the sentence to say what you mean.
For instance, in each of those example sentences, you could be meaning that getting her act together was easy, or you're feeling snobbish and authoritative, or you're trying to blow by the fact that you have another program because you have something more important to say.
In formal and professional writing (such as marketing writing), I eliminate the word "very" whenever I see it. Of course it didn't always used to be that way; I had no idea how offensive the word "very" was to writers and "those in the know" until I read this quote by Mark Twain.
Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Hmmm. Read that quote carefully. Notice how Mark Twain -- the famous writer! -- used the word "just," which I just told you to eliminate?!?
And notice how I just used the word "just" (twice now!), even though I said the word is a no-no?!?
That's because I'm using the word "just" as a marker of time, to let the reader (you) know that what I'm talking about happened just moments ago.
As for Twain's "just" ... if I were editing the sentence, I'd delete the word "just" because it reads the same without it, only tighter:
Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be as it should be.
(Did I just edit Mark Twain?!?)
Back to the word we're talking about -- "very" -- I do tend to eliminate most instances of it, especially in formal or professional writing (think school papers, web content, trade articles, that sort of thing) when using it adds no meaning.
In many ways, "believe" is a fine word. The usage you must be careful about is when it's paired with the word "I" -- "I believe." In most cases, your writing will be stronger by eliminating the phrase.
As with the word "believe," pay attention to the word "think" when you see it paired with "I" -- "I think." In my experience, I've almost always been able to eliminate the phrase "I think" when it appears in my writing.
I'm not sure how or why it happens, but if the word "that" were an infectious disease, it would have wiped out a good portion writing by now. As with any word you're thinking of axing, eliminate "that" judiciously. Sometimes it fits, sometimes it simply adds bulk.
If you're not a writer, you may have read this post with a sinking feeling, thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm never going to be a writer, I can't remember all these rules!"
Please, let me set your heart at ease. If I looked, I doubt I'd find any writer whose work could not use a little cleanup. Mine included.
Besides, I don't want to scare you away from writing, because writing is the act of transmitting your thoughts and ideas to your readers. EDITING is the act of reviewing that transmission with an eye towards tightening, cleaning, clarifying, and enhancing meaning.
If you worry about using these filler words in your content too often, look for them before you hit PUBLISH:
Try it! You'll quickly see how much more powerful your writing can be, which is good for you, your readers, and the world at large.
Do you sweat the small stuff? Do you want your online presence to inspire trust and confidence? Do you grit your teeth when others don't care enough about YOUR web experience? Are you all about creating an excellent website and excellent content that makes it easy for people to get to know, like, and trust you and buy your stuff?
I think we might be soul mates. And I'd love for you to join my tribe.
When you do, I'll alert you to new blog posts, new programs and products, and new ways for you to create excellent, frictionless, online experiences that lead more people to YES! I promise to be relevant and real, and to send only thoughtful content and advice.
Renae Gregoire is a content mentor and clarity expert changing the world one outstanding leader at a time. The coaches, consultants, and experts she works with have big visions for creating transformational change--if only they could create that content! Her work typically involves a blend of strategy and wordsmithing, with a heavy focus on the reader's perspective. Renae is also the creator of the Blog Post Inspiration Deck, the Blog Your Brilliance online program, and the Content Coaching Club.