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14 Words to Watch Out for (in Writing and Life)

14 Words to Watch Out for (in Writing and Life)

You know what’s awkward? Having parent-teacher conferences when the student in question is in the room — like the kind I’ve been having lately in my job as a tutor/mentor. You don’t want to kill the kid’s self-esteem or make him feel like he’s being ambushed. On the other hand, you need to express to both the parent and student that his current performance ain’t cutting the mustard. So you end up making tentative statements like, “I’d like to see you putting in a little bit more effort,” or “You’re starting to manage your time a bit better, but you’re still kind of wasting time.”

I often find myself using these types of qualifiers both at home and at work. The other day, when a student came in to work on a paper but instead spent the entire afternoon texting, I said, “I hope when you come in tomorrow you’ll be a little bit more focused.” Then I shook my head. “No.  Correction. I hope you’ll be a lot more focused. I hope you’ll be focused on the paper and not on anything else.”

Stop being so tentative and say what you mean!

Stop being so tentative and say what you mean!

As it turns out, I use these tentative qualifiers in my writing as well. I’m doing yet another revision of my novel (but my agent says we’re getting close to being done!) and I have noticed sentences like:

She felt slightly dizzy.

She was almost frightened.  

She was starting to feel somewhat confused.

Gosh, I thought, why don’t I go ahead and make her dizzy instead of slightly dizzy? As for the second sentence, what does “almost frightened” mean anyway? Either you’re scared or you’re not. And “she was starting to feel somewhat confused” is so far removed from the actual feeling. Do I really need all those qualifiers chipping away at the significance of the sentence?

Because, see, the problem with those parent-teacher conferences, is that all the “little bits” and “kind ofs,” make the parent and student think what you’re saying is not such a big deal after all. And you’re in danger of the same thing happening if you use too many in your writing.

Sure, I know that “she felt dizzy” has a different meaning than “she felt slightly dizzy,” and maybe the latter is what you really mean. I’m not saying that you never need these qualifiers. What I am suggesting is that you use the “find” function on your manuscript and search for the following words and phrases. Then decide if you really need them.

Words to Watch Out For — Do you really need to use these, or does the sentence work better without them?

a bit
a little
beginning to
kind of
in a way
sort of
starting to

Get out your ninja sword and start slashing unnecessary words! photo credit.



About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

3 responses »

  1. I’ve noticed words like these weakening my writing, and made an effort to cull them, but weirdly I’ve never thought about how I use them in conversation. I’d bet good money that I overuse them and in so doing undermine myself, but they slip in so easily, it’s easy not to notice.

  2. Update: I’m revising my novel, and I put “began” into the “find” bar. Everything is “began to do this” and “began to do that.” I’m going to probably delete about 25 or more “begans” from my novel.


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