Stop Using These Words and Start Writing Better

Good writing is concise. It conveys its message without using too many words. I’m not suggesting you strive to make your content as short as possible, but I am saying you should be aware that when your content rambles, you risk boring—and ultimately, losing—your reader.

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, is one of my favorite books. He begins the second chapter (“Simplicity”) by saying “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” and he goes on to say that unnecessary words, among other things, contribute to this clutter.

When you go back over what you've written, you’ll find sentences--even paragraphs--that can be deleted. Deleting even deleting a few words will make your content crisp and concise. Here are some commonly-used words and phrases that will rarely add anything to your writing.  

Completely

I completely understand what you mean.
I understand what you mean.

If you want to make it more forceful, write it this way: I understand what you mean!

Honestly

Your reader assumes you’re being honest, so there's not need to say it:

Honestly, my product is the best in the industry.
My product is the best in the industry. 

I Think (My Opinion Is)

Your reader knows your writing conveys what you think, so again, there's no reason to say it:

I think we should hire the business major from the University of Kansas.
We should hire the business major from the University of Kansas.

Just

I was just about to call you.
I was about to call you.

If you want to add urgency, write it this way: I was about to call you!

In some cases, just is justified:

Just so you know, I won't be at work the rest of the week. 
She submitted her rough draft just before deadline.

Literally

This word annoys me: It’s used a lot, and 90% of the time it’s used incorrectly. Literally is supposed to describe what actually happened, but most people use it to add emphasis:

I literally died when I discovered I had the winning lottery ticket!
My head literally exploded from all of the information they presented in orientation.

Neither calamity occurred, so neither is literally true.

Quite

I’m quite fond of walking along the lake on cool fall evenings.
I’m fond of walking along the lake on cool fall evenings.

Really

I really thought our new marketing campaign would increase sales more than it did.
I thought our new marketing campaign would increase sales more than it did.

That

You can usually delete that and retain the meaning of your sentence:

Didn’t you say that our team wouldn’t make the playoffs?
Didn’t you say our team wouldn’t make the playoffs?

It’s obvious that you don’t know the value of using social media.
It’s obvious you don’t know the value of using social media.

However, in some cases, that is necessary:

Educators know that when students don’t eat breakfast, the students aren’t alert in class. 
Researchers have found that some medications, though FDA approved, have harmful side effects.

If the last two sentences didn’t include that, they'd likely be misunderstood.

Very

Very is not an intensifier. Delete it or use an adjective:

You provide very good service.
You provide good service.
You provide excellent service.

Conclusion

When your content is concise, you attract more readers, and if it's compelling and relevant to them, they’ll read to the end. When you find yourself using one of the words (or phrases) I’ve listed, ask yourself if it serves a purpose. If it does, leave it in; if it does not, delete it.