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."
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 "ofs." 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
because: See "reason . . . because."
below: Do not write "the reasoning below" for "this reasoning." See also "above."
cant 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."
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 dont.
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
its: 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 affectationjust 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, Tennysons 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 youre going to?"
means "Do you know where youre 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
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 WordMark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the "almost
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.
|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 scholars 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."|
|its||The company protected its employees.||"Its" is a contraction for "it is." Avoid contractions in formal writing. The company protected its employees.|
|plethora||The childrens Christmas gifts gave them a plethora of joy.||A "plethora" is a shameful and wasteful excessit is a bad thing to have. The childrens 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,