Want to improve your writing? Avoid these five over-used words and phrases! These writing tips are from a successful writer who isn’t just my regular guest blogger – she’s a recent Top 10 Blogs for Writers winner. I’ve learned a lot from freelancer Susan Johnston – such as how to increase my blog readership, earn more money writing, and write great conclusions.

“Too often, writers rely on clichés or tired, over-used words instead of coming up with an original way to stay what they mean,” says Johnston. “Sure, most readers understand these phrases with little or no explanation, so it’s an easy way to get a point across. Sometimes it’s acceptable to use these words or phrases if the alternative would be too long-winded (or if you’re satirizing something). But too many worn-out words can sound stale and unoriginal. It’s a lazy shortcut, really.”

Here, she shares several over-used words and phrases for writers to avoid. For more ways to improve your writing, click on How to Avoid English Teachers’ Pet Peeves: Improve Your Writing by Eliminating Common Errors by Cheryl Miller Thurston. And, read on for Johnston’s writing tips…

5 Over-Used Words and Phrases for Writers to Avoid

I asked my Twitter followers to help me come up with a list of words and phrases to retire. Here’s what we came up with…

1. Very.  I’m very sick of this word. It doesn’t add meaning. In fact, it usually detracts from what you’re trying to say. I bet that if you took an article or blog post and crossed out every use of “very,” you’d never know they were missing. And the writing would be tighter, too.

2. Kind of.  “Very” uses hyperbole, and “kind of” suffers from the opposite problem: understatement. I found myself typing “kind of” and quickly added it to the list, because, well, it kind of weakens the point. Sometimes it makes sense for dialogue, though, especially if a character is insecure. But writers should avoid it, and use only in moderation.

3. It is what it is. @HOHWWriter and @savebythomas both nominated this phrase, and I think it’s the ultimate cop out! It doesn’t say what it is, so writers use this vague phrase in lots of different contexts. How about just saying (or even better, showing) what’s what?

4. Think outside the box. Another double nomination from @maggieleyes and @WriterFish. Usually when someone uses this term, they are not capable of coming up with a creative idea themselves. I don’t mind when someone riffs on this theme, as in “think outside the cube” or “think outside the bento box.” But unfortunately, when everyone starts using those phrases, they’ll feel hackneyed, too!

5. Just sayin.’ As @SoundCheckMama points out, this expression doesn’t actually say anything. Enough said. (Yes, I just used another cliché!)

What over-used words or phrases should writers avoid? Do you agree or disagree with this list?

For more writing tips, read 5 Commonly Misused Words and Phrases in Writing on The Urban Muse (which I, Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, wrote!).

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer and blogger who has covered business and lifestyle topics for The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, DailyCandy.com, Yahoo! HotJobs, and many other publications. Want to know more? Check out The Urban Muse or follow her on Twitter.

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21 thoughts on “5 Over-Used Words and Phrases for Writers to Avoid”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Interesting! I like the word “fusion”…it has a nice rhythm. But I also like “frosty” — something about the f-word appeals to me 🙂 But, fierce is overused, I think. Especially when it describes a kitten.

    I like “sort of” and “kind of” when describing nouns like “honored” and pregnant.”
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..The Most Important Job for Writers – Being Sticky, Concrete, Memorable =-.

  2. I would agree, “It is what it is” may not be appropriate for writing, but can be _very_ useful in verbal discussion to close a belabored subject.

    My vote for useless, overused words would be “fusion” and “fierce”… I can’t put my finger on it, but both of those drive me up the wall, likely because they are used to describe something lacking those characteristics…

  3. Always neat to hear how people react to others’ writing. I wanna make sure I am not off pushing everyone’s pet peeves button. But you know, just saying, this is a very informative 🙂
    .-= Kelly´s last blog post ..Top 5 Posing and Directing Photography Tips =-.

  4. I second the motion to include “sort of” and “kind of” on the list. These terms pepper nearly every conversation I hear, and rarely contribute to meaning or emphasis. “Sort of the definitive…” and “kind of awesome” are two recent, cringe-inducing examples.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks, my friend, for keeping it real — I appreciate it!

    51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Writing

    With a “hats off” to you at the end 🙂

    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..51 Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Writing =-.

  6. Vetted

    At the end of the day…

    dialogue, as in “The Board dialogued about installing a new street sign at the corner of….”

  7. Hi Aussie Expat,

    It’s great to see you here on Successful Writers! Thanks for keeping me accountable 🙂

    No, I haven’t written about the top 50 most overused words and phrases for writers…I can’t believe two months have passed since I made that comment! I have to research that still — I’ve really let it slide down my list of things to do. That’ll be on my list for posts for the first week of January, and I’ll post the link here.

    See you in cyberspace,
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Blogging Goals – 7 Types of Goals to Set for Your Blog =-.

  8. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  9. This is a great idea — the 50 most overused words and phrases for writers to avoid — thanks Gloria! I’d be happy to pull it together (unless Susan beats me to it 🙂 ).

    George, it’s great to see you back on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers….I’ve been wondering where you were….

    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..A Top 10 Writing Blog – Quips and Tips for Successful Writers =-.

  10. Hi Laurie,

    Sorry I’ve been scarcce recently. I’m glad to spend today getting caught up though.

    Before I comment on this article, I want to say congrats for making it into the the top ten writing blogs. I think that in all honesty, yours deserves to be there big time.

    In terms of overused phrases, it is hard to disagree with any of the ones listed. I’ll have to put on my thinking cap and come back, because I know there are some phrases that drive me cuckoo but I’m at a loss for the moment.


  11. I have to watch my writing for the following deadwood: “Really,” “just,” and “sometimes.” In fact, I almost used “really” in my first sentence. I also use “halcyon” WAY too much. Sometimes I think I describe “halcyon” scenery because I’m really just too lazy to bother thinking of a better description. 🙂 @CarmenSisson

  12. A selection:
    “elephant in the room”. No wonder elephants are disappearing from India and Africa – they’re all in someone’s room over here.
    “nemesis” for foe, opponent or enemy. Overused, misused and abused.
    “eye of the storm” – almost always overused and misused by people who have never been in a hurricane and don’t know what the “eye” is actually like.

  13. Brad, this was a completely unscientific list and your suggestions definitely belong there, too! “Sort of” and “kind of” are close cousins, in my opinion.

    Thanks to everyone who weighed in!
    .-= Susan Johnston´s last blog post ..Guest Post: 5 Commonly Misused Words and Phrases in Writing =-.

  14. I started reading a book about a woman who started her own organic gardening business against the wishes of her family — when the author dropped the phrases “harebrained scheme” and “thoughts buzzing around like flies”, I stopped reading.
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..5 Over-Used Words and Phrases for Writers to Avoid =-.

  15. two I would add to the list:
    decadent– I know it has become a synonym for rich, self indulgent, slightly wicked, and it
    still annoys me. a decadent dessert? no thanks.

    seamless — I write most often about music, where seamless blending and seamless fusion show up often in reviews. really says nothing about the music or the artist, I think. seamless is for turtlenecks.
    .-= Kerry Dexter´s last blog post ..photographing music: hands =-.

  16. I have seen these mistakes more than I would like to from people I have been beta reading for. I’m actually feeling sort of smug, since these aren’t the mistakes I make. My question is how far behind were terms such as: Like, Maybe, Sort of, and the greatest over use in fiction: Said.
    .-= Brad´s last blog post ..How Not To Mary Sue =-.