Everyone has their favorite words. You have a friend that thinks everything is awesome or a sister who always wants to know, ‘does that make sense?’ It doesn’t matter how well-educated you are, how much you write, or how often you sit at a keyboard – everyone has a favorite word (or words). Those words may not be noticeable when you speak, but they’ll jump off the page. Those pet words can bog down your writing, especially copy, when your word count is limited.
When it’s time to clean up your copy, go to your word processor’s ‘Find’ function and look for those favorites. Here are a few words to look for, as well as ways to see how often a certain word appears.
- Just: This word is used in several ways, and most of those times it can be replaced with a more descriptive – and powerful – word. I was just walking down the street doesn’t offer much detail. Last week I walked down the street shows you exactly how long ago.
- Very: She was very late. If you grew up in my family, that would mean fifteen minutes. If you grew up in my husband’s family, that could mean two hours. Instead, be specific: She was forty-five minutes late.
- Really: Similar to very, it’s a superlative but unquantifiable. How far is really far? How smart is really smart? If you don’t know, leave it out. It’s enough to tell people you’re qualified. Telling them you’re really qualified doesn’t add anything.
- That*: This word is a qualifier – its specifies a specific section, person, or thing. It’s often used when it’s not needed (e.g. I know that it is wrong can be written I know it is wrong). It would take a whole English lesson to explain the hows and whys, so I’m asking you to trust me. Find it. Read it out loud. Figure out if you really need it. *Some people have decided that ‘that’ should never be used and are therefore eliminating them all from their writing. Resist the temptation.
- Tricky Words: if you always confuse affect/effect, there/they’re/their, or lightening/lightning, find those words. Make sure you’re using the correct form properly.
- Read It Out Loud: What looks good on paper to you may actually be a tongue twister. Reader your copy out loud to see how it sounds (not how you think it sounds). You’ll discover more pet words that way.
- Find & Highlight: Not convinced that pet words are a problem? Use the ‘find’ feature on your word document and selection the option to highlight. This will provide a visual as to how many times a words actually appears. (Bonus Tip: if you have ‘and’ three or more times in a sentence, it’s time to make new sentences).
By eliminating pet words, you make room for stronger, more descriptive words that will better help potential clients know who you are and what you’re offering. Don’t hope someone knows what you mean when you say you’re really talented and are just a very hard worker – show them exactly what you mean.