One of my favorite rules from Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” is this one: OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS. I make it a goal in my writing to say things as succinctly as possible. Mark Twain’s great quote, “If you see an adverb, kill it,” is one of my favorite writing quotes of all time.
In order to gain more clarity in your writing, I’ve come up with five things to strike immediately. Your writing will improve for having eliminated these crutches from your work.
- “Being that.” For example, whenever you write something like this: “Being that I am twenty-five years old, I decided to switch jobs. “Being that” has, for some reason, taken over student writing. It needs to be eliminated. Instead of saying, “Being that I am twenty-five years old, I decided to switch jobs,” simply say, “As a twenty-five-year-old, I decided it was time to switch jobs.” All “being that” does is add needless clutter.
- “Awesome.” There is no need to see this word in print unless you are using it as part of dialogue or if something truly is “awesome.” Otherwise, it’s just an overused and tired word.
- “Literally.” Seriously, do I need to say why? This has become a part of the common spoken vernacular, and it’s making its way into the written language as well, even if it’s used incorrectly. The fact remains, it’s overused, and often ill-used. People say “literally” when they actually mean “figuratively.” So unless you figure it out and use it properly, don’t use it at all. In most cases, you can take the word “literally” out of any sentence, and it doesn’t alter the meaning. Literally.
- “Really” and “very.” Both of these words really do very little to enhance your writing. They really are like very bad crutches. It’s in very bad taste to use them too much, really. I’d very much suggest that you really strike them from your writing. Get the point?
- Everyday and every day. If you don’t know which to use, try something else, because too often people confuse the adjective (everyday, as in an everyday ballplayer) with the combination adjective (every)/ (day)/noun— (every day, as in He takes the train to work every day.) I can’t tell you how many print advertisements I’ve seen on buses, in magazines, on television, and even on food packaging where everyday is confused with every day way too often.
These are just some things I’ve noticed in student writing and other writing recently. In order to write clearly, thoughts have to be written clearly. By eliminating “clutter” words or words that are too vague and overused, your writing will become stronger.