Advice for Effective Writing

Words and Phrases to Avoid 
The Right Word and the Almost Right Word

Many problems that students have in writing involve simple failures to follow rules
of grammar and usage. Grammar involves adherence to set rules of writing. Usage
refers to selecting phrases that effectively communicate the impression the writer
wants. In this section of this guide, you will be presented directions for
recommended grammar and usage. You may find it most useful to examine this
guide from time to time to see if you can spot ways to improve your writing
generally. This guide presumes that you know the parts of English sentences
(nouns, verbs, adjective, adverbs, and the like). If you need to review these
concepts, you may want to glance through any of the many valuable guides to
English grammar widely available.

This guide is presented in the form of a glossary or "dictionary" that identifies key
words.  By reading this glossary a little at a time, you may find direction to the
appropriate use of words. In addition, you may find elements in your own language
use that may need improvement.  This glossary is divided into two sections: words
and phrases to avoid;  distinguishing the right word from the almost right word.

                  Words and Phrases to Avoid

Many problems students have with their writing involves writing too much and
including unnecessary elements. Some language probably can be deleted from your
writing and speaking without your ever missing them. Consider these phrases as
items to "nuke" in your formal writing.

above: Do not write "the reasoning above" for "this reasoning." See also "below."

abbreviations: Whenever possible, do not use abbreviations in formal writing. If you
    must use them, make sure they are understood by your readers, such as "Mr.,"
    "Mrs.," or "Dr."

absolutely: Few things are. Most of the time this word is pointless anyway, as in
    "He was absolutely correct," which means "He was correct."

admittance: You probably can live without this word. Technically admittance
    refers to the physical movement involved in entering into a building. The word
    "admission" also may refer to a right, such as "admission into membership of a
    fraternity . . . ."  Thus, use the word "admission" freely and drop admittance
    altogether. You can speak of "admission of guilt," but not "admittance of guilt."

all of: Try to avoid unnecessary "of’s." Rather than writing "All of the employees
    were present," state "All employees were present." Reserve the additional "of"
    for situations in which a personal pronoun also is present, such as "She fell in
    love with all of her heart."

also: When used at the beginning of a sentence, "also" makes the writer sound like
    a member of the Beverly Hillbillies. Place "also" in the middle or at the end of
    a sentence. See also "plus."

and/or: Most of the time "and/or" is equivalent to "or." Try to use "or" alone.

any: This word is used much too often. Try to minimize its use. Do not write
    "Statistics is the most boring of any subject." Instead write "Statistics is the
    most boring subject."

area of: Avoid this wordy phrasing: "In the area of research, statistical knowledge is
    useful." Instead, delete "in the area of" whenever possible, such as: "In research,
    statistical knowledge is useful."

as far as: Wordy. Try to substitute "in." Instead of writing "The students’ behavior
    was uncivilized as far as their decorum goes," substitute "The students’
    behavior  was uncivilized in their decorum."

aspect: Try to use words that do not sound so affected. Consider substituting
    "part," "side," or "element."

at: Do not end sentences with at. "Where is he at?" means "Where is he?"

basis: Usually this word is unnecessary. Instead of writing "on a yearly basis," just
    write "yearly."

because: See "reason . . . because."

below: Do not write "the reasoning below" for "this reasoning." See also "above."

can’t hardly: Do not use contractions and this problem may disappear. "Hardly"
    means doubtful. The writer probably means "can hardly."

cause and effect relationship: Just say "causal relationship" or delete the term
    altogether. Instead of stating "Studying and grades are in a cause and effect
    relationship," try "Grades increase with studying."

cause/result: Try to minimize the use of these words. Most things are both causes
    and effects anyway. Thus, instead of writing "His studying caused a rise in his
    grades," write "His studying raised his grades."

center around: This option is not possible. You can "center on" a topic or "revolve
    around" it. But you cannot "center around" anything.

concept of: Cut to the chase. Rather than write, "The concept of ethos is important
    in communication studies," state "Ethos is important in communication studies."

consequently/subsequently: These words mean the same thing. You probably can do
    without one of them.

definitely: Do not use this word. There is very little in life that is definite. You will
    sound immature if you use it ("I definitely believe The Lost World was better than
    Jurassic Park. Definitely").

ensure: In England they reserve this word for assurances. Insurance is reserved for
    policies issued by insurance companies. In the U.S. we have so much trouble
    with this word, that it is best to use the word "assure" and avoid using "ensure."

enthuse: There is no way to use this term without sounding silly and trivial.
    Substitute "enthusiastic" for enthuse.

exists/existing: Delete these words when possible. Rather than write "The
    relationship existing between persuasion and evidence is strong," state "The
    relationship between persuasion and evidence is strong."

firstly: Just say "first." The extra syllable is an affectation.

flammable/inflammable: These words mean the same thing. Just write "flammable."

former: Try not to use this phrase since it can properly refer only to situations in
    which only two elements are mentioned and you wish to refer only to the first
    named. It is best to name the concepts again.

goes without saying: Then don’t.

groom/bridegroom: Though some grammarians attempt to find a distinction here
    (reserving "groom" for a person who handles horses), most of us do not.
    Thus, you probably do not need both terms.

irregardless: Use plain "regardless" instead.

is where/is when: Delete such an awkward phrasing. Instead of "Persuasion is
    when receivers change attitudes," substitute "Persuasion is receiver attitude

it’s: This word is not the possessive form of "it." This word is a contraction. Do
    not use contractions in formal writing. Use the word "its" as the possessive form
    of the word "it."

ize endings: Avoid them. Such a term as "accessorize" is a wordy way of saying
    "trimmed." Avoid writing "finalize" for "complete" and "utilize" for "use."

kind of: See "sort of."

lots/ a lot: This informal phrasing should not appear in formal scholarly writing.
    Substitute "many," "very much," or "a large amount."

most certainly/most carefully: such extra embellishments usually are overdone and can
    be deleted without serious loss. nature: Do not throw this word into sentences
    that can do without the word. Rather than state "Most certainly, the assignment
    was difficult," state "The assignment was difficult."

of: Try to eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases. Rather than state "The
    notion of credibility of sources is an important part of communication studies,"
    write "Source credibility is important in communication studies."

one of: Delete this phrasing. Instead of writing "One of the first rules of writing is
    proper spelling," state "A first rule of writing is proper spelling."

overall: Since this word often is overused, you should avoid it or substitute the
     word "generally" instead.

partly/partially: Since these words mean the same thing, drop the bloated term

plus: This word is not a substitute for "also." Reserve it for references to

preventative: This word is a stupid affectation—just say preventive.

reason . . . because: Use one or the other in a sentence, not both. Thus, you may
    write "The reason he arrived late was that his watch stopped," or "He arrived
    late because his watch stopped."

reason why: Drop the redundant "why." By the way, Tennyson’s poem did not
    make this error ("Theirs not to on why, theirs but to do and die") since he
    used "reason" as a verb, not as a noun.

secondly: See "firstly."

sexist language: Do not use sexist language. Thus, refer to: "mail carrier" not
    "mailman;" "police officer" not "policeman;" "fire fighter" not "fireman."

sort of: Delete this phrase. It merely adds verbiage to sentences. Thus, instead of
    writing "He hated this sort of dull lecture," state "He hated dull lectures."

subsequently: See "consequently/subsequently."

that/which: The fewer of these words that appear in your sentences the better.
    See how many you can delete in your writing. When you must use these terms,
    reserve "which" for setting off dependent clauses as asides (and preceded  by a
    comma, as in "The architect decorated buildings with gargoyles as if they were
    going out of style, which they were."

thusly: "Thus" is enough. "Thusly" is an affectation and is excluded from many

to: Do not end sentences with "to." "Do you know where you’re going to?"
    means "Do you know where you’re going?"

we: If you must refer to yourself in your writing (and there usually is no need to do
    so), do not use the editorial "we" unless you are writing with a coauthor. "Only
    kings, editors, popes, and people with tapeworm should refer to themselves as
    ‘we.’"—Mark Twain.

well: Do not start sentences with this word when you mean to say "hence."

would: Try to minimize the use of this word. Instead of writing "He would study
    when threatened," write "He studied when threatened."

you: Avoid referring to your readers with this pronoun in your scholarly writing.
    Just get to the point without mentioning them.


           The Right Word versus the Almost Right Word

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the "almost
right word" is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Students do not always use correct words in their writing. The table below shows
words that often are misused. Look at this list and see if you can spot any errors
that might be present in your own writing.

To select the correct word, it is useful to follow a few pieces of advice (from Lannon,
1986, ch. 8). One may avoid incorrect word choice by avoiding overstatements,
avoiding slang, avoiding euphemisms, avoiding the use of unsupportable generalizations,
avoiding relying on generalizations, relying on concrete language whenever possible,
and keeping the language simple. Using precise language will ensure that your writing
will be understandable.

  Often Misused
         Word               Example                                     Improvement Comment

obtain I have identified a problem that may obtain to you. The writer must have meant to say pertain.
subsequently Subsequent to entering the car he unlocked it.   Consequently he was able to get inside without additional help. The writer cannot mean this statement.  The words "subsequently" and "consequently mean the same thing "after."
impact The new speed limits should impact positively on fatality rates. "Impact" properly is a noun. The appropriate word here is "affect." The new speed limits should positively affect fatality rates.
effect The study did not effect the scholar’s conclusions. The appropriate word is "affect."   Effect is another word for "result" in this case.
except I do not except his ideas. Illogical. The writer must mean "accept."
protestors There was a ring of anti-nuclear protesters around the power plant. They surely were not protesting "anti-nuclear" positions. The writer must have meant "demonstrators" not "protesters."
it’s The company protected it’s employees. "It’s" is a contraction for "it is." Avoid contractions in formal writing. The company protected its employees.
plethora The children’s Christmas gifts gave them a plethora of joy. A "plethora" is a shameful and wasteful excess—it is a bad thing to have.  The children’s Christmas gifts gave them great joy.
could care less I am so bored that I could care less. Usually expressed with a disgusted tone of voice, people must mean the opposite: "I could not care less."
hopefully Hopefully my grades will improve. The statement should be "I hope my grades will improve." Hopefully is another word for the emotion of eagerness as in "’Can we go to the park on my birthday?’ Tommy asked hopefully."



Lannon, J. M. (1986). The writing process: A concise rhetoric (2nd ed.). Boston: Little,