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First Draft: Words to Write By

The best content comes from the meticulous selection of words. As word counts dwindle on web pages and promotional materials, it becomes increasingly important to deliver information that captivates. As William Zinsser said in On Writing Well, “words are the only tools you’ve got.” That’s not to say design is unimportant. Visual interest sparks your audience’s attention – words ignite action.

It seems almost impossible to write something new when every third product online claims similar ‘uniquely innovative world-class discoveries’ beyond every click. There’s nothing wrong with a sprinkling of industry buzz words as long as you communicate what differentiates you from everyone else. There are, however, words that clutter and weaken your writing.

Terms to Limit

Really. There’s almost always a better word to communicate when something is really great (superior, wonderful, extraordinary, etc.) and in doing so you eliminate unnecessary words.

I think / I feel / I believe. Many times phrases like these come from insecurity or trying to avoid definitive statements. When your reader identifies hesitation there’s almost no chance of actually persuading them your thought, feeling, or belief is accurate.

Just. If you can remove “just” and retain your intended meaning, do so.

Actually. Like the opinion based phrases above, “actually” is commonly used as a filler word that tries to establish some level of credibility, but usually has the opposite effect. Using “actually” seems more like a signal of ignorance than truth.

These words (or phrases) are probably no surprise. Most lists that identify weak words or terms to avoid in your writing will have these listed somewhere. Does that mean they should vanish entirely? Absolutely not. These terms can still be valuable tools when used sparingly and in the right situations. “Just,” for example, can be useful in informal communications like emails to show you are ‘just checking in’ and not trying to be pushy.

Additional Tips for Better Writing

Crisp words can add flavor to your writing, as long as you understand usage. Do not expect to find and replace all your buzz words or weak terms with the first synonym that presents itself and solve all problems. The goal is to curate your content through mindful selections.

  • Clear, concise writing goes a long way. If you can eliminate words without losing meaning you absolutely should.
  • Watch adjective placement – related words should stay together.
  • Vary your sentence structure and your word choices. When in doubt, read your sentences out loud. Repeated words will sound off so you’ll know where a change is needed.
  • Good writing comes from rewriting.

"First Draft" is a new blog series focused on the writing and editing process. Discover a better way to craft content or let us do it for you. Contact Bill White or Abby Spung at 800.606.1610.

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