Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Updated 11.16.2023 by Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning content writer, website publisher, and author of 9 books.
Want strong writing? Start by eliminating weak words. It’s a simple fix.
Naturally, you want to know which words are weak and which are strong. And yes, I will name names. But first, why do some words lack power while others have impact?
Here’s another way to look at weak words in writing – by placing them in two general categories:
Weak words are ambiguous, abstract, imprecise unclear, or just plain fuzzy. They’re a lazy writer’s excuse that give you an “out.” Use them and you can avoid pinning down your exact thoughts. In contrast, specific words are clear. You work a bit harder to choose them and place them in your content, but the effort pays off with stronger writing.
Weak words don’t add meaning or clarity to your content – just clutter. Be purposeful as you self-edit. What words can you eliminate? How can you tighten your language? Take a red pen to the unnecessary words and tidy up your writing.
There are plenty of weak words that I hunt down and slash. You can do the same. Study this weak words list, poise your finger over the Delete key, and get ready to strike out these terms from your writing.
A lot is in the “large quantity” range. But how much is “a lot”? You don’t know. Therefore, readers don’t either. Ditch it. Or be specific.
Example: She writes with a lot of clarity.
Better: She writes with clarity.
Also better: She writes with twice as much clarity as a year ago.
“About a tablespoon” may have worked in Grandma’s recipes. But it doesn’t work in writing. About doesn’t give you an amount. It’s a way to indicate quantity without giving a quantity.
Example: She writes about twice a day.
Better: She writes twice a day.
Do these words weave through your writing? If so, you totally reveal that you completely need a crutch. Literally.
Tongue-in-cheek aside, absolutely, completely, literally, really, totally, and very are props. You use them for emphasis, which places them in the “vague “category. Do yourself a favor and swap them for more descriptive word. Your message will be stronger and your writing will be clearer.
Example: That blog post was really clear and totally made a very strong point.
Better: That blog post made a hard-hitting point.
It’s a filler word. You don’t need it.
Example: She writes just enough to make a point but doesn’t embellish.
Better: She writes enough to make a point but doesn’t embellish.
Clear writing doesn’t beat around the bush. “One of” does. You use it in your writing because you want to give yourself some wiggle room. Put on your big kid pants and get rid of this phrase.
Example: One of the best ways to write clearly is to get rid of excess words.
Better: To write clearly, get rid of excess words.
It’s like a lot. Or at least somewhat like it. Meaning “some” is not specific, plopping it straight into the “vague” camp. Cross it out. And while you’re at it, get rid of “some’s” relatives – someone, sometime, somehow, somewhere, somewhat, something, someday, somebody – and anyone else in that family.
Example: Somehow, she writes clearly.
Better: She writes clearly.
Here’s another set of grand equivocators: sort of and kind of. Have courage. Dump them and say what you mean.
Example: Blogging was kind of an escape for her.
Better: Blogging was her escape.
You may need this word. You may not. Read your sentence with that and without that. If you can eliminate it, do so.
Example: This is the clearest article that she has written.
Better: This is the clearest article she has written.
It’s a noun, but a hazy one. Define the thing. Replace it with a more descriptive term – the thing you’re referring to.
Example: Self-editing is a helpful thing to learn.
Better: Self-editing is a helpful skill to learn.
Action verbs are usually strong. But thinking, believing, and feeling are intangible activities. Unless you’re running for political office and need to tell potential constituents what you think and believe, your reader doesn’t care all that much about the activity inside your head. Further, all that thinking and believing and feeling is simply a way to equivocate and protect yourself in case the reader disagrees with you. Edit out these words and give the reader a straight statement.
Example: I think her writing is clear.
Better: Her writing is clear.
It’s a phrase that indicates what happened previously. You don’t need it. Use past tense instead.
Example: I used to write with too many words.
Better: I wrote with too many words.
Be ruthless as you edit your content. Prowl through to seek out vague and unnecessary words. Then toss them or replace them to make your message clear. Do that and your readers will thank you by reading more of what you’ve written.
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