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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Remove These 30 Words and Phrases from Your Writing Now

Becoming a better writer is an art form. It requires patience, research, reading voraciously, and above all—practice. In the process, a writer's lexicon should be consistently curated, since words are the basis of the writing profession, and words that are vague or superfluous should be replaced with better ones or deleted.

If you want to sharpen your craft, here are 30 words and phrases to remove from your writing now.

Down, up (if following sat or stood)

In most cases when you see these two words following "sat" or "stood", it's superfluous. "She sat down in the chair" could be "she sat in the chair," and "they stood up to sing" could be "they stood to sing." The point here is to keep your writing as sharp as possible.


In many cases, use of "that" is either superfluous or incorrect. "The book that is on my bookshelf" could be "the book on my bookshelf" and retain the same meaning. "The night that we're going to the baseball game" should rather be "the night we're going to the baseball game."

"That" is also incorrectly used when referring to people. For example, "I have a friend that plays cello" is incorrect. You don't have a friend that plays cello. You have a friend who plays cello. In the same sense, "My aunt that is visiting from Florida" should be "my aunt who is visiting from Florida."

Said, asked, replied, whispered, demanded or any other dialogue tags (after the first few sentences of dialogue)

Instead of using dialogue tags, which slow the pacing of the story, reserve them for the first few sentences of dialogue then ditch them afterwards. After your reader understands the order that the characters are speaking in, they'll catch who's saying what without these distractions.

You can also use actions taking place between and around dialogue to help note who is saying each line. Consider the two examples below. Which one has the better pacing?

Example 1

"What time is the meeting tonight," asked Steve.
"I have no clue," said Terrance, "but they sent out an email this morning."
"Yeah, my email inbox is swamped with complaints," said Steve.
"Complaints?" said Terrance.
"Don't ask," said Steve.

Example 2

Steve stopped, knowing now why he felt like he was forgetting something all morning. "What time is the meeting tonight?"
"I have no clue, but they sent out an email this morning." Terrance didn't bother to look up from his work.
"Yeah, my email inbox is swamped with complaints."
"Complaints?" At least now Terrance was interested.
"Don't ask."

Think, thought, felt, feel, realize, wonder

Using these words in your story is a great example of telling vs. showing. You don't have to tell your reader that the main character is thinking something. Simply put it in italics to show that it's a mental process within the narration.

Or alternatively, state it. If your protagonist wonders whether the love of his life is gone for good, don't write "he wondered if the love of his life is gone for good." Instead, write the question: "Was the love of his life gone for good?" The fact he is wondering this is implied in the narration, so the reader sees what the character is wondering about without being told that the character is, in fact, wondering.

You don't have to tell your reader that the main character is thinking something. Simply put it in italics to show that it's a mental process within the narration.
You don't have to tell your reader that the main character is thinking something. Simply put it in italics to show that it's a mental process within the narration. Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels.


This is one of those lazy words that should be replaced with something more descriptive and compelling. Instead of writing, "She went to church" you could rather write "she drove to church." Instead of writing, "He went to soccer practice" you could rather write "he ran to soccer practice." See how that changes the image? Not only did you avoid a vague word, but you used the same word count to offer more detail for your reader.


This word might be more often used in nonfiction or blog articles, but if you're a writer, you should immediately strike it from your vocabulary unless you're using it to describe how someone else has spoken or done something.

While it's mostly used to add emphasis, when it's used for this purpose, it immediately implies that the other words you've written are not honest. "Honestly, I'd rather watch a Netflix show than go to the movies" is exactly like saying "I'd rather watch a Netflix show than go to the movies," except there is implication that you're only now being honest. Additionally, as mentioned for "that," extra words should always be removed for sharper writing unless you are going for a purposefully chatty, informal vernacular.

Absolutely, totally

While usually intended to add emphasis, these words are the epitome of redundancy and are almost never needed. If something is important, it's important. Making it absolutely important or totally important doesn't change anything. In the same sense, if something is essential, making it absolutely essential doesn't make it any more essential than it was before adding "absolutely" to it.

Very, really, rather, quite

These words are modifiers but should always be replaced with a better word to sharpen up your writing. For starters, they signal a young and/or inexperienced writer. If you're using them in dialogue between young people, that's another story, but if it's coming from you—the narrator—find a better, more engaging replacement.

For example, you could describe a "really beautiful day" or say it is a "dazzling day." You could mention that a road trip will be "very long" or you could rather describe it as "immense," "far-reaching" or "lengthy." Regardless of what you're describing, you will always be able to find a more suitable replacement for "very" and "really." If you choose the right adjective, it shouldn't need to be qualified. If you're stuck, simply pull up an online thesaurus and get unstuck quickly.

Writer and humorist Mark Twain had a useful solution to removing unneeded modifiers from your writing. "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Florence King, American novelist, essayist and columnist, put it like this: 'Very' is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen.


At one time, "amazing" was just fine to use. It means "causing astonishment, great wonder, or surprise" and is used constantly in everything from slogans to speeches to social media posts to conversations about sports or the weather. Simply put: it's overused. Here's a list of less-overused words that express the same (or nearly the same) concept.

  • Fascinating
  • Incredible
  • Marvelous
  • Stunning
  • Surprising
  • Unbelievable
  • Astounding
  • Miraculous
  • Mind-blowing
  • Staggering
  • Wonderful

Always, never

These words create absolutes and can make your writing seem inaccurate or even closed-minded. To say that something always happens is to claim that you have an omniscient view of an incident, across locations, situations, and even time periods. Obviously, this is not the case.

Women don't always nag their husbands and dogs don't always torment cats. It doesn't always rain in Seattle and children don't always say mean things to each other. In the same sense, claiming that it never rains in the desert or love never lasts makes the writer seem unprofessional, overly confident, and simply wrong. That's why using these words in your writing should be avoided.


If this word is used correctly, it denotes something that happens exactly as stated, in the literal sense. However, you'll often see it doing the opposite, or used with a figurative expression (as in, "That literally scared me to death!"). If you "literally" thought you were dying, be sure that was the case before using the term. Or even better—don't use it at all and simply note how you thought you were dying. Rarely does the use of the term add important information and as mentioned regarding several of the words on this list, extraneous or vague words are best left unwritten.


This is another filler word that adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence, unless it is used to describe an action that is based on, or person behaving according to what is morally right and fair (the literal definition of the word). Think of it as sugar. It's best to leave it alone entirely, but if you must use it, moderation is best. It's nothing but empty calories.

Think of words like just as sugar. It's best to leave it alone entirely, but if you must use it, moderation is best.
Think of words like "just" as sugar. It's best to leave it alone entirely, but if you must use it, moderation is best. It's nothing but empty calories. Photo by Mali Maeder from Pexels.

Stuff, things

We've all met that person who overuses "thing" when they can't remember the word for the object to which they're referring. "Stuff" falls into the same category and neither should be used by writers who would be expected to have an above-average vocabulary. Be specific!


This is one of those words the majority will get wrong, since many who use it don't realize that its meaning is "regardless." Although it is a word, it is nonstandard in that its prefix (ir-) and suffix (-less) create a double negative. Since its meaning is often misunderstood, combined with a double negative that's confusing, it's best to avoid using it at all.

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