Useless Phrases that Killed Your Writing’s Impact
Posted by theBarefoot on October 15, 2012
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 miricle 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 quiz your audience. You’re writing an article, not hosting a game show. “Did you know…?” is a useless question. Many writers think that this emphasizes what follows. In reality, it softens the blow and detracts from the impact of the point.
To tell the truth
Akin to this 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, I is your job to re-phase it show it is. If the point is obvious, let it stand. 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 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 requiring 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 an alcoholic, 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 with the 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
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 serious 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.”
Though not a phrase, I have an overwhelming desire to touch on the uses of “that” and “who”. This is one of my pet peeves. When I see them misused, it distracts me so severely, my pejorative judgement of the entire article is “This article was written by a baboon.” Harsh, but true. To me, the improper use of “that/who” is more distracting than any other mistake a writer can make. We all have pet peeves and this is my tiny mind’s peevish.
When to use “that” or “who” is quite simple. “That” is used with objects, things, the incarnate. “Who” is used with people, humans, human beings. Here are some simple examples. It was the gun that was loaded with live ammo. It was the criminal who was armed with a gun
The common abuse is the excessive use of “that.” I can’t recall ever seeing “who” used when “that” was necessary, but I constantly see “that” used with people as its object and it drives me bananas. Yes, this is my own personal hell, created wholly in my mind, but it’s still wrong. When I see it, the rest of the article just falls apart. Please, for the love of cake, use “that” and “who” correctly.