Weak words to avoid in our writing abound, but a select few tend to rear their heads time and time again. Don’t sweat their occurrence in earlier drafts, but do make sure to go on a seek and destroy mission in later drafts. You might even go so far as using the find feature (Ctrl + F) to see exactly how many times each occurs. Nothing makes my editor’s eyes twitch more than these so-called weasel or junk words. The following infographic from GrammarCheck packs quite a punch.
5 Weak Words to Avoid & What to Use Instead
It’s a given that a writer who makes a conscious effort at catching these weak words to avoid will become more mindful about using them less. In the process of making every word count as a copyeditor for my clients, I find myself addressing the use of these essentially useless words over and over again. It’s all part of what I do in my job to make prose more meaningful and engaging, but with effort all writers can readily self-edit to cut down on these essentially useless words.
Along with the overuse of really, other adverbs such as very, quite, and rather do little to intensify meaning in a constructive way. As for the use of things and stuff, their lack of specificity does nothing to help readers better grasp a given concept. Though of course, a character in a book might speak this way, but even then dialogue should be a cleaned-up version of the real thing. Dialogue written exactly as people would speak it can be positively torturous to read.
Another way the use of I feel, I think, or I believe weakens text is because it’s a given the writing is coming from the perspective of the author or narrator. Even more distracting is the first-person narrator who always points out how they saw this and heard that. Such words creative a narrative distance between the reader and the character. Finally, it’s important to note that the use of was doesn’t always indicate passive voice and could be functioning as a linking or progressive verb (The food was fantastic. / She was running a good race.)
What weak words to avoid would you add to the list above? Do any junk words in particular raise your writerly hackles?
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Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.