Words are easy to use, and even easier to overuse. Jargon, cliches, and trendy terms can diminish your credibility and make your content read as generic or vague. Filler words pad the word count but don’t add anything of value to your writing.
Sometimes, the word itself is just plain wrong. We’ve all been guilty of assuming we know a word’s meaning, only to discover we were misusing it all along. Think of it this way—have you ever realized that you’ve been singing the wrong lyrics to your favorite song after you read them? The same thing happens in business communication, too.
Let’s take a look at overused and misused words and phrases that you should eliminate from your writing, as well as the top 10 words editors at ProEdit always suggest replacing.
From the Greek word pleon, meaning “excessive or abundant,” pleonasm is using more words than needed to convey a point. This is typically seen in redundant phrasing such as advance warning, brief summary, and final outcome.
These pairings contain words that mean basically the same thing, so you can dispose of one without changing the meaning. There’s no need to say glanced briefly—the word “glance” implies brevity on its own.
Common pleonasms include the following (with the redundancy in italics):
- ATM machine (automated teller machine machine)
- Absolute certainty
- Close proximity
- Depreciation in value
- End result
- Gather together
- Personal opinion
- Unexpected surprise
Intensifiers are a special category of modifiers. They are meant to enhance and add context to the words they modify, but most intensifiers lack precision.
An intensifier most often modifies an adjective or adverb, but not verbs. The most well-known (and overused) intensifiers are very and really. Since intensifiers don’t add value to the sentence, they can be removed or replaced with a stronger adjective. Instead of very happy, try thrilled. Instead of saying that something is really interesting, use fascinating.
Be on the lookout for the following overused intensifiers:
A qualifier adds extra meaning to another word or phrase. When used correctly, qualifiers provide extra details that enhance the reader’s understanding. Overusing qualifiers, however, makes you seem unsure of your statement and weakens the impact of your words.
Some words and phrases already imply the qualifier on their own. For example, essential conveys urgency on its own, so absolutely essential is unnecessary. At the same time, mostly essential is contradictory because something is either essential or it’s not.
These qualifiers should be deleted or replaced with more concrete detail:
- Kind of
- A few
Buzzwords and Jargon
Lingo, acronyms, and business jargon have relatively little meaning outside of the work environment. Jargon overcomplicates your writing and confuses the audience. Short, familiar words are easier to understand, so find a way to translate jargon into simple, clear language.
On the other hand, buzzwords are so wide-ranging and ubiquitous that they are rendered meaningless. For example, if every product is game-changing, revolutionary, and one-of-a-kind, then there’s nothing unique about them.
Watch out for the following jargon-heavy phrases and consider using their alternatives:
- have a belief in – believe
- in the event of – if
- due to the fact that – because
- at the present time – now
- it is necessary that – must
- put an emphasis on – emphasize
Misused Words and Phrases
Context is everything. Using the wrong word for the given context is known as catachresis, such as using mitigate instead of mediate. Another example is using infamous to describe someone as famous—infamous means someone is well-known for a negative reason.
There are also eggcorns, which are words and phrases used in place of similar words and phrases. The phrase “for all intents and purposes” is commonly written as “for all intensive purposes.” In writing, people commonly mistake “loose” for “lose.” The first is an adjective; the second is a verb. They cannot be used interchangeably.
Commonly misused words and phrases include:
- Proceed and precede – To precede means to go before, while to proceed is to continue.
- Ensure and insure – Ensure means to make certain, and insure relates to buying insurance.
- Begs the question – This phrase refers to circular reasoning that assumes what it should be proving. Most people, however, use it to mean “makes you wonder.”
- Could have and could of – While the phrase sounds like “could of” when spoken aloud, the proper phrase is “could have,” which is contracted as “could’ve.”
Unnecessarily inflated words make your content hard to read. While complex language has its place, opt for words and phrases that are easy to understand. When you use inflated words, it devalues their meaning. It also leads to the same issues as buzzwords and jargon.
In some cases, you’re also misusing the word. For example, “use” and “utilize” don’t mean the exact same thing. Utilize is only appropriate if you’ve created an alternate use for something. You use a frying pan to cook dinner; that is its intended purpose. However, your toddler might utilize the same pan as a drum.
Try to avoid using inflated words if a simpler phrase says the same thing. For example:
- cognizant of – knows
- impact on – affect
- subsequent to – after
- necessitate – need
10 Overused Words to Cut from Your Writing
By swapping overused words for stronger, better terms, you can craft more effective and engaging content. This doesn’t mean these words are banned for life, but the key to compelling writing is finding the right words for the right context.
Use the right word, not its second cousin.Mark Twain
The English language is constantly in flux, with words changing in the meaning over time. Fortunately, ProEdit’s team of professional editors are well-versed in content marketing, business communication, and everything in between.
Learn more about how ProEdit’s writing and editing services can take your content to the next level.