Telephone calls and video conferences have not reduced the importance of writing skills in business. Indeed, between email, reports, and proposals, we’re writing more than ever.
Business writing is outcome driven. It exists to inform, persuade, and report. To that end, it has to be:
Many of us find that last word – succinct – most difficult to implement. Blaise Pascal famously wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Sometimes we don’t have the time or mental sharpness to find the perfect word, sentence, or phrase.
Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to improve business writing is the process of elimination – cutting weak, subjective, and lazy words. We’ve suggested thirty to cut below.
But before jumping to the words, also consider the insidious weakening effect of depending on adverbs in your writing.
“Never underestimate the weakness of adverbs and clichés. You’d be surprised how vivid your writing will become once they are subverted.” – Subverting Adverbs and Clichés
Read more about getting rid of adverbs.
30 Words to Omit for Stronger, More Persuasive Business Writing
1. VERY – One of easiest crutches to lean on. But “very” is a lame word for several reasons:
- It’s not specific. It makes your point subjective. Instead of “very tall,” say “6’ 8””
- It’s wordy and weak. A single powerful word is usually more effective. Instead of “very happy” try “ecstatic.” Instead of “very angry,” try “outraged.”
- In many cases, simply eliminating “very” makes the remaining sentence stronger. Instead of “very proud,” just say “proud.”
2. JUST – Nike gets a pass on this one, otherwise, remember “just” is the king of weak words. (“Very” is the queen.) Omit.
3. REALLY – see above.
4. WENT – Use a stronger and more descriptive verb, like ran, skated, walked, flew, drove.
5. THAT – Usually (but not always) unneeded. Cut it if a sentence works without it. (Bonus: never refer to people as “that” – use “who.”)
6. THEN – In a series of events, either remove “then” or try using “and” instead of “then.” And sounds more sophisticated.
7. HONESTLY – Using this word has the opposite effect of its intention. It triggers the reader to subtly call your statement (and perhaps your entire document) into question.
8. ABSOLUTELY – Usually redundant, especially in its common pairings with necessary, essential, required, and always.
9. TOTALLY, COMPLETELY – Like above, these words can usually be omitted without losing any details. So either cut them or get specific. (“The water was totally cold” is weaker than “The water was cold,” or “The water was almost frozen.”)
10. SORRY – Being sorry is part of life. But the word is often deployed as an excuse or an easy way out of a problem. Also, the more you say it, the less it means. Only use it when you need to. And offer “sorry” with a plan of action.
11. LITERALLY – This poor word. It’s as played out as Hammer pants. And it’s not just played out; it’s almost always used incorrectly. “Figuratively” is usually the correct word. But even if it’s a fact that you “literally almost died of old age waiting in line,” your sentence will be stronger for eliminating the word “literally.” Best to omit.
12. AMAZING – Wonderful word, but now as played out as “literally.” Also, like “literally,” it’s often used incorrectly. (Is your avocado toast really “amazing,” as in “astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, breathtaking?”) Use a more compelling word or simply omit.
13. THINGS – can mean anything, so it means nothing. Be specific.
14. STUFF– see above.
15. ALWAYS – rarely true, so rarely use it. Also, while it can work in an instruction manual, in causal use, it can make you look grandiose.
16. NEVER – see above.
17. PROBABLY – A weak, hedging word that doesn’t add useful (aka specific) information. Omit whenever possible.
18 – 22. DEFINITELY, CERTAINLY, ACTUALLY, BASICALLY, VIRTUALLY – These don’t add useful or specific information. Omit whenever possible.
23. MAYBE – Sometimes “maybe” is the only honest answer. However, it’s a word to avoid in business correspondence. Not because you’re supposed to know everything – but because it sounds lazy. Try replacing it with a specific reason or answer.
24. ACCORDINGLY – Use a simpler word, like “so,” or simply omit.
25 – 28. RATHER, QUITE, SOMEWHAT, SOMEHOW – These are filler words often used to soften a sentence. For example, “The software was rather expensive” should be “The software was expensive.” Omit.
29. IRREGARDLESS – it’s not a real word.
30. ANYWAYS – also not a real word.