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These 5 Words Make Your Writing Look Amateurish

And four more styles professional writers avoid

By Malky McEwanPublished 4 months ago 6 min read
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Moist. Is fine when it describes eyes or lips.

Any other part of the anatomy and my shoulders hunch together as if someone took a straw and blew a blast of moist air onto the back of my neck.

We all have words we recoil from —

Dirge. Phlegm. Renal. Flaccid.

For some, it will be an expletive, the one that makes you screw up your face like the devil just farted in your mouth.

But, they aren’t the worst.

Some words do more damage to the writer’s reputation. Nothing words. These words are so innocuous that they slip in like a Trojan horse, but what’s inside can be deadly.

Yet, they are unremarkable words.

  • Things
  • Good
  • Very
  • Great
  • Really

These words are bland and meaningless to your reader. You might as well try to shave a gorilla and ask it to dance the Charleston, as use these to impress your reader with your vocabulary.

You won’t find these words in well-crafted content. Creative writers avoid them because they are insipid, drab, dross.

I wrote them on a Post-it and stuck them to the side of my computer screen to remind me to avoid them.

Here’s why

Using things (or stuff) makes your writing look wishy-washy.

I have lots of things to do today. I’d better get on with them.

It’s lazy and it is boring. Be more specific and forthright —

Life is hard sometimes. I have to balance work, writing, housework, gardening, car maintenance, family, friends, and football. So off you fuck and leave me alone.

Skilled writing is like climbing a ladder. We always have a specific reason for getting to the top of a ladder and the higher we go, the more we can see.

Good on its own can be discriminating, moral, benevolent, loyal, well-behaved, correct, attractive, healthy, skilled, complete, reliable, true, genuine, operative, able, ample, full, pleasant, skillful or enthusiastic.

Good means it can serve a desired purpose, be suitable, not spoiled or ruined, superior to the average, or satisfactory.

If it is very good, then it can be ‘very’ all of the above. And if it is very good, it can be great.

Great can be large in size, extent, or intensity, bigger than other similar forms. It can be large in quantity or number, extensive in time or distance, or remarkable in magnitude, degree, extent, significance, or importance.

Great can be chief or principal, superior in quality or character, powerful or influential, eminent or distinguished.

Using great slips us back down to the bottom of the ladder, we see little from there and we can’t get the job done.

So why use great, good, or very when you can be much more specific?

Mark Twain advocated for swapping damn for very when it popped up.

Using great and good is not good or great. How good is good and how great is great? I’m never sure. Great grates and good isn’t bad, so how ‘not bad’ is it?

Really can be used as an intensifying adverb. It means “to a great degree” (and again, we slip back to the bottom rung of the ladder).

Avoid using really as an intensifying adverb — either use a synonym or a more advanced adjective — and watch how much better your writing flows.

I really like these writing tips.

Becomes —

I especially like these writing tips.

Extremely, particularly, seriously, and totally give you more options.

Moist, dirge, phlegm, renal, and flaccid make me cringe, but at least they make me feel something. It’s the mundane, innocuous words that cause the damage.

Things, Good, Very, Great, and Really, can ghost their way into your writing and are slippery monkeys to catch, unlike the gaping yawns they induce.

You should steer clear of these in your writing to ensure you don’t unintentionally send your readers into a catatonic state of indifference.

Don’t shilly-shally. Make Your writing as clear as you can by choosing the right words.

This Advice Won’t Be Palatable To Everyone

Not everyone appreciates unsolicited advice, even when the author thinks it is well-intentioned. Unsolicited advice is almost always self-serving. You may have found this article insulting —

Whaddaya mean my writing is amateurish?

It comes with the territory. Offering advice, I find, is a surefire way to have people turn on you. Stick your backside in the air and you risk getting it kicked.

It’s not like I am telling someone they are fat. Fat people know they are fat — they have mirrors. But occasionally some people cannot see their shoes and they think it is because they have small feet.

There are four reasons some readers will have clicked away before now.

I’ve used —

  • Generalisations
  • Stereotyping
  • Jargon
  • Condescension.

And there are specific reasons for not using those in your writing.

Generalisations

Generalisations are sweeping statements that unfairly assume every person or situation fits neatly into a pigeonhole.

Who wants to be pigeonholed?

Only pigeons, that’s who.

Stereotyping

I’ve been stereotypical. In the right circumstances, you can use many things in your writing that make your words read great.

Stereotyping is a perilous route for writers. People differ. Despite being the most charitable nation on earth, the Scots are often labelled as miserable tight bastards. Annoying.

If that stings, what about when it matters? Imagine how people of colour feel about racism or women about misogyny. Consider the impact your words have on readers.

Jargon

Some of this article is jargon. Engineers can talk to each other about loose transponders and understand each other — we might not be that knowledgeable (certainly not me).

Jargon comes from the Old French word gaggire, meaning “chatter of birds.” That’s fine if you are a twittering tit, a chattering chaffinch, or a gibbering goose. But to everyone else, it’s incoherent nonsense.

Wordsmiths will lap up this article, but others will head off to boil the kettle and wonder what’s on TV.

It can be useful in technical writing, but overusing jargon confounds the comprehension of an average reader — hands up, I’m an average reader.

Condescension

It can come across as condescending. For example:

That’s an interesting way to do that. It’s not the way I would do it, though.

If you know all this already, you are going to think I am a supercilious, pompous prick for writing about them.

Who hasn’t bridled at being spoken to condescendingly?

Condescending language can be infuriating. A subtle form of bullying. It’s an older person talking down to a younger colleague, a man mansplaining, or out-and-out gaslighting.

If there is one very good thing you take from this article, it would be really great to understand why I wrote this.

I beseech you to write these spiritless words on a Post-it and stick them up somewhere in your writing space so you are reminded to avoid them.

Your readers will thank you for not sending them into a stupor.

Malky McEwan

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About the Creator

Malky McEwan

Curious mind. Author of three funny memoirs. Top writer on Quora and Medium x 9. Writing to entertain, and inform. Goal: become the oldest person in the world (breaking my record every day).

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran4 months ago

    It’s not like I am telling someone they are fat. Fat people know they are fat — they have mirrors. But occasionally some people cannot see their shoes and they think it is because they have small feet. This part here blew my mind, lol. And that's why it is important for people to be more open minded and more receptive towards advice. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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