Terrible Words Writers Use Too Much

Don't make your writing as fluffy as this bunny, or your point might get hidden under all of that fluff.

Don’t make your writing as fluffy as this bunny, or your point might get hidden under all of that fluff.

At Online Writing Jobs, we’re not necessarily fans of sweeping ultimatums. Sometimes, rules help a writer, and sometimes they should be abandoned based on the context.

On the other hand, there are certain words out there that are just not good in most contexts: blogs, sales copy, SEO content, or even fiction. These inexpressive, worthless words can and should be eliminated from your writing. Doing so would tighten your prose and make it pack a heftier punch.

While some of these words might be essential in certain contexts, most of them are used as fluff and clutter your speech. Take them out.


The thing about “that” is that that is not often that necessary.

Go back through the sentence and cross out the unnecessary uses of the word “that.”

The thing about “that” is that it is not often necessary.

You just halved the number times you used “that.” This is an old rule taught in many different English classes, but it’s a fairly good rule. If you can cut out a usage of the word “that” without impacting clarity, do it! If it makes the sentence harder to read, don’t.


Most of the items on this list are unnecessary intensifiers; they’re meant to help something sound more important, but they don’t. Overuse has watered down “very.”

It’s very disconcerting.

It’s disconcerting.

Is the difference between those two sentences profound?


This is especially true for fiction. (Listen up, NaNoWriMo writers.) Using action-oriented verbs by removing and replacing conjugations of the verb “to be” can make your writing seem much more exciting.

Lacey was very angry and threw a ball.

Lacey threw a ball angrily.

A reader unconsciously pays more attention to the second sentence because it feels more like something happened.


I simply must confess that as a writer, I simply like to use “simply” a great deal — especially when I’m trying to convey to the reader that something is simple when it’s not at all.


Really? Really, really? Out of all other word count-fluffers, this one is probably the worst because it’s so inappropriately colloquial. We really don’t like it.


Unless you’re writing dialogue for a British person, you probably don’t need to put “quite” in your sentence. It’s quite unnecessary.


What’s wrong with “use”? In most cases, you can replace “utilize” with “use” and say the same thing.


Tenth-graders tend to tack a word like “finally” or “lastly” onto their last paragraph to drive home a point, and teachers mistakenly reinforce this behavior. Outside of high school English exams, it sounds lazy. If you want your readers to be bored by the end of your essay, use it.


Ignoring that “stuff,” like “really,” is far too colloquial for most instances, it’s also void of meaning. “Thing” and “things” are also infuriatingly nondescript. Use a specific noun. If that’s not an option, find better vague nouns: reasons, factors, examples, options, or elements, for instance.


This one is usually used inaccurately. It literally makes us insane.


This is another intensifier that doesn’t actually intensify.

This is another intensifier that doesn’t intensify.

There’s not really a noticeable difference there.

This list should drive home a point: rather that stuffing in nondescript words to provide emphasis in a sentence, emphasis should and can be felt without them.


There are a variety of various reasons why one would need to eliminate various words. This issue has less to do with the word itself but the fluffy stuff that tends to happen around the word. “Various” tends to correlate with sentences that don’t say much.


You can use “just” as it relates to “justice,” but if you’re just stuffing it into your sentences willy-nilly, it can just sound silly.


We (the readers) know you’re still going. We know that you’re going to give us more, because there are more words on the page. You don’t need to reinforce that and say, “Hey! There’s more here!” Other words and phrases like “in addition,” “moreover,” and “besides” do this, too.

A Lot

Personally, I like this alot. I don’t like this: “a lot.” A lot of times, this is another nondescript emphasis-word that doesn’t add value.


“Possibly” and wishy-washy language like it weighs down nonfiction copy. Find out if your statement is a fact. If it’s not a fact, don’t pretend to know something you don’t know. “Seems to,” “one of,” “most likely,” “almost,” and “may be” are more phrases that weaken statements. And “I think” and “I believe” statements should be avoided in nonfiction prose.


In fiction, “suddenly” doesn’t have the immediacy a writer hopes for. Let your verbs carry the weight. This word can make you sound like an unenthusiastic Dungeon Master. (“Suddenly, five orcs pop out of the bushes!”)


You don’t need these words to summarize your point. “To sum up” is bad; don’t say that you’re summarizing, just do it!


This is the worst action verb for motion. There are thousands of words to describe the act of going somewhere. Take the time to find the perfect word to describe the action with which someone traveled from one place to another place.


“Like” is the crutch of a simile. Don’t shy away from your metaphors, like a cowardly lion hiding in the bushes.

Finally, there are words that quite simply tend to just get in the way of good writing very frequently in various ways. They literally don’t mean a thing, really. Furthermore, they actually tend to make things less readable. Don’t utilize these reading-impeding words. Suddenly, you might realize that your readers are disinterested, like a thing that seems to have went away. It’s something that writers need to worry about a lot.

Stephanie Nolan, an editor for Online Writing Jobs, is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Since college, she's both edited and written film scripts, press releases, fictional stories, and articles. After gaining professional experience with Public Relations, Human Resources, and Recruitment, she discovered OWJ. With her strong marketing background and love of the written word, she now found a great balance while working with online content.

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Posted in Writing Tips