Dead Words In Essay Writing

I just read an article withsome advice for writers about avoiding “dead words” – words empty of meaning including very, funa lotsaid, nice, cool, and really.

As so often happens when someone pontificates about writing, the article features a mixture of good advice and absolute nonsense. Here’s a response I posted after I read the article:

“Said” is hardly a dead word. “Said” is the only word journalists use to introduce direct quotations. You’ll rarely see “replied,” “commented,” “noted,” or similar words in a newspaper article. Do readers object to the repeated use of “said” – sometimes a hundred or more times – when they read a newspaper? Few of them even notice. (I never did until someone told me about the practice.)

I could also have pointed out that alot is a common misspelling, not a “dead word.” And I use fun all the time. (The author probably meant that we should avoid using fun as an adjective – “We had a fun time at the party” – but I would call that a colloquialism, not a dead word.)

On the other hand, I agree with the advice about avoiding very, really, and nice. (“Cool” I would classify as another colloquialism.) Etiquette columnist Miss Manners recommends substituting charming whenever you’re tempted to use the word nice, and I think that’s an excellent suggestion (although I’ve never tried it).

I would have added rather and respective to the list of dead words. Every time my husband uses rather in one of his gardening columns, I wage a fierce battle to convince him to take it out. I’m happy to say that I usually get my way. Using respective in a sentence is grounds for divorce in our home.

There’s another, less obvious angle to consider when you start thinking about dead words: Even splendid words (like splendid!) lose their punch when you overuse them. If you come up with a powerful word that you’re dying (ha!) to use, limit it to one appearance in your writing task.

And you should think seriously about whether you want to use it at all. No one would call splendid a dead word. But wouldn’t you be better off writing about the specific qualities that evoked your admiration? 

This entry was posted in Sense and Nonsense on by ballroomdancer.

DEAD WORDS:

When ideas fail, words come in very handy.

…::: Johann Wolfgang van Goethe::…

So…

Eliminate the following “dead” words from your writing, so your ideas will not be hindered by the power of useless words:

 

 

get                 good             well                 got                 just                  fine

great             always           very                lots                  so                    every

nice                a lot                fun                  neat               !!!                    !!!

                                                                                                                            **** Did I mention no exclamation points!!!****

FIRST AND SECOND PERSON PRONOUNS:

(EXCEPTION:  WRITER’S WORKSHOP ESSAYS)

I                                   me                              you                             your

my                              mine                           one                            one’s

us                                we                              our                              ours

 

ALL:

CONTRACTIONS ( i.e. don’t, you’d, I’ll)

ABBREVIATIONS (i.e. etc., o.k., T.V.)

SLANG (i.e. awesome, cool, fine, totally, rad).

“THE END” ENDINGS

!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS !!!

“So”, “and so”, “and then”

BEING VERBS:

am                              is                                  are                             was

were                          be                               being                         been

 

THE VERBS:

would                                    could                         should                        may                might

 

SENTENCES BEGINNING WITH:

(EXCEPTION: If you absolutely need to start a sentence with one of the following words— occasionally it will be acceptable. But, if repeated for every sentence beginning it will result in a deduction of points).

 

A, An, The, But, So, However, This, That, There, Here, Well, It

ARE YOU STUCK? POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

Find an alternative word or phrase; spell the word out; show, don’t tell, rewrite

REMEMBER:

Do not refer to the essay itself or to any part of it in your sentences (i.e. In this essay I will explain the possibilities why Brad Pitt is not as cool as Johnny Depp.)

!!!FINAL REMINDER!!!

!!!MISS LOOCK DOES NOT LIKE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

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