Most Overused Words In Essays

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As a public relations and journalism major, there is one thing that I have learned to do, and that is simply to de-clutter my writing.

Writing for social media outlets, newspapers, e-mails and essays all have one thing in common: keep it short and sweet, yet descriptive and detailed. People want the story, the facts.

We have all had to write those dreaded research papers or meet some sort of word count. We eventually run out of information and begin to “fluff up” and colorize our papers with unnecessary words.

Want to keep it simple? Want to give your message and your paper more meaning? Want to make your paper more collegiate? Avoid these overused words.

  1. Amazing: Yes, “amazing” is a great descriptive word, but only for certain situations. This word has been overused so many times that it really has lost its luster and appeal. Look for a synonym to be more creative. Is everything really amazing?
  2. Awesome: This goes hand-in-hand with the word amazing. It’s been so overused that “awesome” is boring. It’s not descriptive enough, and can be viewed as a sarcastic response to something.
  3. Maybe: When writing a paper, particularly an opinion paper, you want to try to avoid this word. “Maybe” sounds like you are unsure of your answer. Why? Just be straightforward.
  4. Very:  This is often used for emphasis of something. However, “very” is very vague. For example: “The weather was cold today.” Cross it out. It’s not needed and is definitely not the most descriptive word out there. Try thinking of another word that may impress your professors.
  5. Perhaps: I am so guilty of using this word too much. Perhaps, like maybe, just goes to show that you’re not sure of your answer. It almost indicates a question in the reader’s mind that says, “Are they confident about their response?”
  6. Just: In my opinion, this word is simply a filler for a sentence. It doesn’t particularly add anything, so why bother putting it in?
  7. Really: Another common word that we’re all guilty of using too much. Similar to “very,” this word is used for emphasis, yet completely lacks emphasis altogether. There are much better words to describe something. It’s a weak word.
  8. Literally: This word kind of annoys me. It adds absolutely nothing to a sentence. What’s the difference between “I literally drove all night,” or, “I drove all night?”
  9. Like: I know “like” is used for comparison, but it is to the point where it’s so overused these days. Starting a sentence off with “like” is a big NO simply because it sounds a bit immature.
  10. Good: “Good” isn’t great at all. It’s non-descriptive, non-informative, and it leaves the reader lacking information.

Avoiding these words will help improve the quality of your paper. I know that it is so tempting to use them, but seriously, put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Do you want to keep their attention? Do you want them to get the gist of the story without looking for more?  Be creative! Look for synonyms that make the reader visualize what your paper is all about.

An important part of every student’s self-editing process is reading over the text to ensure that each word adds value. Pay attention not just to what you are saying, but how you are saying it.  Make sure that each sentence is informative and efficient.

Two years ago I started keeping a list of overused words and phrases in the essays I’ve edited, six of which are listed below. You don’t have to completely remove these words/phrases from your essay vocabulary, but you should take note of how many times you use them in any given document, and limit their use if necessary.

(1) There/It

Writers who are not sure about the subject of their sentence will often use “there” or “it.” While not grammatically incorrect, the use of “there” or “it” results in a weak sentence. For example:

There are many scholarly articles supporting Wise’s view. (Weak!)

Many scholarly articles support Wise’s view. (Strong!)

It is clear that she is guilty of shoplifting. (Weak!)

She is clearly guilty of shoplifting. (Strong!)

(2) Situation

Although “situation” is not always a bad word choice, it is overused (especially in essays written by ESL students) by writers in referring to a set of circumstances or state of affairs. Overuse of “situation” leads to vague sentences—more precise word choices are often available. For example:

This essay will consider the education situation in Peru and its effects on children. (Vague! What does “situation” refer to, precisely?)

This essay will consider current education policies in Peru and their effects on children. (Specific!)

This essay will consider the elementary school curriculum in Peru and its effects on children. (Specific!)

(3) It is interesting to note that…

Your reader should be able to assume that all of the points you raise in your essay are interesting and relevant! “It is interesting to note that…” is a wordy and unnecessary addition to your paper. For example:

It is interesting to note that the test subjects in group C performed better than those in group B. (Wordy!)

The test subjects in group C performed better than those in group B. (Concise!)

(4) Really, Very, Quite (and other qualifiers)

Qualifiers are used for emphasis, but are almost always unnecessary. These words do not add value to your essay and can make your writing sound amateurish. Most of the time you can remove the qualifier without changing the meaning of the sentence. If you need to add extra emphasis, then you should choose a different word. For example:

This room is really cold. (Weak!)

This room is freezing. (Strong!)

The plaintiff’s testimony was quite long. (Weak!)

The plaintiff’s testimony was long. (Strong!)

See my full blog post on qualifiers.

(5) Aspect

Another favourite among ESL writers, “aspect” is overused in reference to a specific feature of something. Rather than using the vague word “aspect,” writers should be explicit about the feature to which they are referring. For example:

Analysts are worried about various aspects of the financial audit. (Vague!)

Analysts are worried about various aspects of the financial audit, including accounting irregularities and reporting inconsistencies. (Clearer—but wordy!)

Analysts are worried about accounting irregularities and reporting inconsistencies in the financial audit. (Clear!)

(6) In conclusion

Phrases such as “In conclusion…”, “In sum…”, or “In closing…” only point out the obvious: that this is the end of your paper. These phrases do not add value to your closing remarks. Instead, get right to it! For example:

In conclusion, cats are smarter than dogs, because… (Weak!)

Cats are smarter than dogs, because… (Strong!)

Read my other posts on the dos and don'ts of writing essay conclusions.

For other hints and tips on how to improve your academic writing, check out my other blog posts. If you have questions or topic suggestions, feel free to comment on this blog or connect with me via Twitter or Facebook!

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