Useless Phrases that Killed Your Writing’s Impact
Avoid These to Give Your Writing More Punch
Crowding your article with worthless phrases is poor writing. It detracts from the impact you want your words to carry. Good writing conveys authority. The examples that follow are shear padding. They burden your reader with unnecessary words, waste their time, and leave them feeling unfulfilled. Give your articles power by avoiding these useless phrases.
You get the point
This is an affirmation to the author not the reader. The real meaning is, “I don’t think I made my point so I’ll pretend that if the reader didn’t get it, they are dumb. Then I won’t be questioned.” If you have resorted to this phrase, it is a signal that you should give serious attention to what preceded it.
For people like me who have not a single, creative bone in their body, seeing “Be creative” in the middle of a how-to article blows me out of the water. If I were creative, I wouldn’t be reading your article. This is like the old cartoon of the math equation where the middle step is “then a miracle happens.” Give the reader the facts. At least, give them a few ideas.
Here’s the punch line
Phrases such as “Get it?” just kill a joke. Telegraphing the joke in an article abstract will stop most viewers before they even click to read. If you ever used “This is a comical look at” or “A humorous view of,” you’ve fallen prey. If you have to tell the reader it’s funny, it’s not.
As a matter of fact
This is phrased better as “In fact” or simply “Factually.” Sometimes it is better not to write as we speak. This is one of those times. By definition, facts stand on their own. They should be presented as statements without cursory language. Here are a few other members of this phrase family.
“On the grounds that.” You are not a lawyer. This is not a trial. Use “because.”
“In light of the fact that.” This is matter-of-fact’s second cousin once removed and should be.
“After all is said and done.” Just complete the thought without the fluff.
“In conclusion.” We can see that the article is ending. There is no need to telegraph your final paragraph. Wrap it up.
Did you know?
If the fact is germane to your article, state it. Some readers may know the fact, some may not. There is no reason to ask your audience if they know what follows. This is a useless question. Many writers think that this highlights what follows. In reality it detracts from the impact of the point.
To tell the truth
Another common mistake is using “honestly.” There is a subtle implication that everything up to this point was a lie. Good writing is authoritative. Do not plant doubt in your reader’s mind.
I confess to being an abuser of these words. They are usually extraneous especially at the beginning of a sentence. These words are dangerously close to “to tell the truth.”
Needless to say
Then why are you saying it? Choose your words carefully. There is no need to write something if it is clearly implied. If the point is not self-evident, spell it out. If the point is obvious, let it go. Do not preface it with “It goes without saying” and contradict yourself with the next phrase.
Before we get started
It is called a preface. A preface belongs in a book not a short web/print article. Your article starts with the first typed character. You have lost your reader if your first paragraph does not grab them and state your primary topic. Articles that require a set-up should be done briefly. Setting off the introduction in italics is acceptable assuming you forego this phrase.
This is the equivalent to the Southern phrase, “We’re fixing to get ready.” If you wouldn’t use that as the lead to your article, don’t use “Before we get started.”
In order to
You do not sound smarter using this phrase. “I’m writing this article in order to convince you” is passive, wordy and lame. You would never say, “I’m going to Bob’s house in order to visit with my friends.” You would say, “I’m going to Bob’s for a visit” or “I’m going to Bob’s for a beer.”
If I ever see, “I am traveling to Robert’s residence in order to obtain a malted beverage and carouse with my acquaintances” in your article, I will hunt you down and slap you with a herring.
The most unique
The definition of unique is “one of a kind.” “Most” is a comparative adjective. You can not compare a one-of-a-kind object with anything. All hope is lost for you as a writer if you don’t know why you can’t do that.
Some nouns have built-in verbs. Others have obvious implications. You create redundancy when you use these together. “The plaintiff filed the complaint with the court on Sept. 15th,” is repetitively redundant. Who else would file a complaint but the plaintiff? Where else would they file it but in court?
Consider this alternative. “The complaint was filed on Sept 15th. The plaintiff, Miss Kat Livesalone, is seeking restitution through the Feline County Court.” The first example is shorter, usually the mark of good writing, but its repetition communicates very little.
By definition the following are redundant.
- Advanced warning
- Advanced planning
- Past experience
- Past history
- Free gift
- Necessary prerequisite
- Utmost perfection
- Witnessed first hand
- Final destination
- Mix together
- Planned parenthood (?)
I’m not completely sure about that last one. This is not an exhaustive list. Here, most writers would toss in the phrase “but you get the point.”. Notice my restraint.
Like any skill, writing takes practice. Editing takes discipline and more practice. Mastering the art takes time. Dedication to improving you writing will pay off. Apply these tips as a start to stronger writing. Follow the advice of Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, the authors of The Music Man, “Watch your phraseology.”
Mr. Barefoot regularly publishes under the pen-name “theBarefoot”. His special brand of humor, satire, and generally helpful knowledge on writing and all things nerdy can be found on his blog. His odd view of the world can be seen on T-shirts at the teeBarefoot shop hosted by Spreadshirt.com. He also entertains pets, kitchen utensils, and people with short attention spans on his YouTube channel, I Eat Lemons.
I'll admit I used a few of these when I was writing articles. I knew there was a reason I like doing fiction more.
All of those phrases were beaten out of me in 10th-grade journalism. Thank you Ms. B. I was so afraid I'd see that list and see all of the bad habits I'd fallen back into. I can't stand to even use those in real life in speaking. Because I wrote for law enforcement, when I hear the word "truthfully" somewhere, I immediately thing, "This is where the lie is going to be inserted."
Perhaps the style ones chooses to write is a reflection of their intended audience, regardless of the length of the article/paper/blog. Perhaps I also should have paid more attention during my english composition classes. I always too the easy way out and said I was more concerned about delivering my message over my mechanics!
I like your take on "in order to" and "before we get started". I've always loathed the word "very" because it doesn't mean anything. Very red is no different than red, really. And lots of people use the word "that" too often. If you can take it out and the sentence means the same thing, leave it out.
Some very good points. It is easy to write as we speak and perhaps we shouldn't speak in a "wordy" manner either.