The "good," the "bad," and the "ugly": words you should avoid

Most college students have, at some point, been told to avoid using contractions, the word “you,” and other informal words and phrases. But there are plenty of other words we use while speaking that we should usually avoid in any kind of writing, whether it’s academic or creative!

Here are a few words and phrases that tend to clutter up your writing.

Really, Very

These words aren’t incorrect per se, but they are lazy. If you’re trying to emphasize something, like how happy or how great something is, then choose a single word that expresses how what you’re trying to say. Instead of saying “very happy,” you could say “elated.” 

Meh: “I’m very happy.”
Better: “I’m elated.”

Meh: “The show is really great.”
Better: “The show is fantastic.”

Good, Bad

In academic writing, “good” and “bad” sound informal. In creative writing, they’re just boring–there are dozens of other words you can use to eloquently and accurately describe something.

Meh: “The results of the study were good.”
Better: “The results of the study were positive.”

Meh: “Julie thought the play was bad.”
Better: “Julie thought the play was horrendous.” 

Sort of, Kind of

Readers don’t like it when they have to work to decipher your meaning. If you say “Jim is sort of annoying,” you haven’t explained what he truly is. Is he annoying, or isn’t he? Tell the reader exactly what you mean.

Meh: “This test is kind of difficult.”
Better: “This test is difficult.”

Things, Stuff

While you may know what “things” and “stuff” refer to, your reader likely does not. Especially in academic writing, you have to assume your reader is lazy. Your reader doesn’t want to put too much effort into figuring out what “things” and “stuff” you’re talking about. Do everything you can to be specific.

Meh: “I like to do things on the weekend.”
Better: “I like to binge on Netflix and eat pizza on the weekend.”

Just

The word “just” doesn’t add anything to your writing. Like “really” and “very,” writers often use “just” to emphasize a point. More often, the word “just” makes a sentence seem informal and wordy. Be as direct as possible.

Meh: “The leaves are just starting to change.”
Better: “The leaves are starting to change.”

I think/I feel/I believe

These phrases make you sound unsure, which is not what you want, especially in academic writing. You want your reader to believe you are credible and worth listening to. Write confidently, even if you don’t feel confident.

Meh: “I feel that we should care more about our planet.”
Better: “We should care more about our planet."

The key to good writing is to be specific and keep it simple. Use every opportunity to eliminate unnecessary words when they don’t add value to your sentence.

It’s important to remember certain words are sometimes unavoidable. Here’s a short list of some words that are sometimes necessary, but are often avoidable.

That

Rarely is “that” necessary in a sentence. Try reading the sentence without the word “that.” If the sentence still makes sense, take “that” out!

Always, Never

When we use these words in speech, we’re usually exaggerating. Rarely is something always or never the case. However, these words can be used in creative writing if you have a character who tends to exaggerate. In academic writing, use caution! Double check your sources to ensure your use of “always” or “never” is accurate.

It

Many students fear being repetitive, so they use “it” in a sentence instead of being specific. The problem with this is vagueness. Your reader can lose track of what “it” is referring to if you use “it” too often.

Was/Is/Are/Am

Many STEM fields require students to use the passive voice, which means words like “was” and “are” will be used frequently.

In creative writing, however, using active voice is best.