Good writing uses words sparingly, and if you’ve ever read a book or article that seemed poorly written but couldn’t work out what the problem was, there’s a good chance that it contained too much padding.
What is padding? In short, it’s anything that increases your word count without adding value. In fiction writing this could include overly lengthy character descriptions or unrelated subplots. In non-fiction writing it might contain complex academic language or multiple examples when one would suffice.
It also includes filler words that are either too vague and could be swapped for a more descriptive word, or those that are redundant and could be removed without changing the meaning of what you have written.
Weeding out filler words or replacing weak words with stronger ones will greatly improve the quality of your writing. Here are 10 examples of words you should think twice about using.
Although very is added for emphasis, in writing it rarely has the intended effect, and may even weaken the impact of your statement.
Consider the following sentences:
‘There was no denying that the man was very ugly.’
‘There was no denying that the man was ugly.’
Which one sounds stronger?
This advice also applies to words like “really”, “quite”, or “extremely”. If you can remove any of these words and still convey the same meaning, do so.
Literally has become a popular word in recent years, but it’s rarely used correctly and can nearly always be eliminated.
For example, you shouldn’t say, ‘Her legs literally turned to jelly,’ because, they didn’t. But there would also be no need to say, ‘It literally made him smile,’ because although it did make him smile, you can convey the same message without using this word.
Unless you are using this word to simplify or sum something up, you should leave it out. At best, basically is a crutch word, like well or um, but at worst it can actually make your meaning less clear.
For example, saying, ‘The man was basically dead by the time the paramedics arrived,’ or ‘She is basically exhausted,’ confuses the reader. Was the man dead when the paramedics arrived or wasn’t he? Was she exhausted or merely tired?
Although this word can be used effectively, it often only takes up space and weakens your writing.
An example of when it would be appropriate is if you are explaining that something happened only a short while ago. For instance, ‘I just got back from my holidays.’
Most other uses, however, are unnecessary. For example, saying ‘I just wanted to follow up on...,’ sounds apologetic, whereas ‘I wanted to follow up on...,’ comes across as decisive.
That is one of the most common filler words, and removing it can greatly improve the readability of a sentence. For example, the sentence ‘The car that he bought was brand new,’ isn’t necessarily wrong, but the sentence ‘The car he bought was brand new,’ reads a lot easier and conveys the same meaning.
Then can usually be removed from your writing, as long as it’s still clear that one action is following another. So instead of saying ‘He took a walk and then went for a swim in the river,’ you could simply say, ‘He took a walk and went for a swim in the river.’
Although there’s nothing wrong with this word, it can usually be replaced with a more descriptive one. For instance, instead of saying ‘I had a great milkshake,’ you could give the reader more insight by saying something like, ‘I had a thick, creamy milkshake.’
Because this word is so overused, it has lost some of its power. Before using it, ask yourself if there is a more descriptive way to say it, and whether what you are describing would actually “cause great wonder and surprise”.
For example, ‘The amazing aroma of freshly baked bread,’ would probably read better as ‘The pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread.’
While this isn’t a bad word per se, it doesn’t tell the reader as much as it could. Instead of writing ‘Jane went to the store,’ you could write ‘Jane drove to the store,’ or ‘Jane walked to the store,’ thus giving the reader a better picture of how she went to the store.
As with “went” this word doesn’t give the reader enough information. If you say ‘Harriet got a new swimsuit,’ you’re not telling your readers how she obtained her swimsuit. Did she buy it? Was it given to her? By choosing a more descriptive word, you will make the statement stronger.
Are you interested in learning more about the intricacies of the English language? The Australian College of Journalism offers courses in Creative writing for you to learn your craft. Call us to find out more today.