Write Like a Boss: tips on using your words wisely so you don't over-write just to fill space

Write Like a Boss: tips on using your words wisely so you don't over-write just to fill space

This week we look at how to make sure you aren't overloading your sentences with too many adverbs

Adverbs are the vampires of writing. They suck the life out of sentences and lull writers into a false sense of security. Chuck them out, I say. Consider this: “I don’t want to go,” Doris said softly.

Meh. It’s okay. It’s not going to get you any points detracted. It’s grammatically sound. But you’re better than that. Put your vocabulary to good use and say: “I don’t want to go,” Doris murmured.

Now, don’t go on to commit that awful sin of redundancy. Redundancy is when we put in words that we don’t need. For instance, if you had said: “I don’t want to go,” Doris murmured softly. Murmurs are, by definition, soft. Here are a whole box of redundancies that we allow to creep into our writing. 


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He nodded his head : that is the only thing he can nod. He can’t nod his hand or nod his eye, so “head” is not needed.

He blinked his eyes: there’s nothing else he can blink.

Absolutely essential: something that is essential is not slightly essential.

Actual facts/real truth/real facts: facts are facts.


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Advance forwards: that’s the only direction in which something can advance.

Basic necessities: this falls into the same category as absolutely essential.

Completely filled/completely destroyed: either something is filled or it isn’t, and either something is destroyed or it isn’t. You wouldn’t say “completely pregnant” or “completely dead”.

Dwindle down: there’s no other direction anything can dwindle.

Fall down: there’s this thing called gravity which ensures that whatever falls, will go downwards. So unless you’re writing about space, “down” is not needed. And even if you fall up a flight of stairs, you’re still falling “down”.


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Free gift: if you pay for something, it’s not free. If something is a gift, it’s not paid for.

Hollow tube: if it’s not hollow, it’s not a tube.

Enter in: umm, no one “enters out”. They just enter.

A bilateral agreement: well, you can’t have a unilateral agreement because the other party would not be agreeing.

Evolve over time: evolve means to change over time, so strictly speaking you’re saying the chicken will change over time over time.

First and foremost: if something is foremost it is first already.

For the purpose of: just use “to”.

Joint collaboration: you can’t collaborate on something on your own.

Kneel down: just kneel. No one kneels up, kneels sideways or any other way.

Lift up/raise up: you can correct your teacher on this one because so many seem to like saying “raise up your hands” ... just raise your hand, or lift that box.

Voice out: this is a second language speakers’ confusion between “voice your opinion” or “speak out”. Just use “voice”.

Double confirm: this is an understandable mistake for someone speaking in their second language. They have confused “double check” and “confirm”. Both mean the same thing.

Made out of: just say “made of”. Her dress was made of leather. Better still would be: “her leather dress”.

The reason why: Just use “because”. “The reason why there was mud all over the kitchen floor was because it had been raining” should be written “the kitchen floor was muddy because it was raining”.


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I myself hate reflexives

Reflexives! I don’t know why they teach them anymore. I myself find them unnecessary.

He himself said: this can just be “he said” or “even he said”.

I myself: there is no other I than I. I can’t say I himself.

He saw with his very own eyes how bad conditions were: it would be an amazing story if he saw using someone else’s eyes.

Beware of small words

Little words can be like little cracks, weakening sentences. To weed them out use your find key and ensure they are necessary to make your sentence understandable. The ones to watch out for: here, there, of, up, for, as, on, and not.

For James, it was a good place to be: This is wrong on so many levels. “James was in a good place” is better.

For me, I feel: unless you are talking about someone else, the fact that you are saying something does not have to be pointed out.

All of: just use “all”.

Build up: most times you can just use “build”.

As being: “he was exposed as being a fraud” is simply “he was exposed as a fraud”.

As yet: “we can’t tell as yet, whether or not it will rain”. I would change this to “we can’t tell yet whether it will rain”.

Or not: is this one of the most redundant phrases or not? Do you want to go? The “or not” is implied.

Cut down on/cut back on: just use “reduce” or “limit”.

Don’t write the way you speak

We’ve talked about this before, but I’m going to mention it again. Do not write the way you speak or you think others speak. A lot of what people say is “puff” or “air”. Things like “you might disagree, but” “you might not know this” or “I’m sure you know” or “all things being equal” or “as a matter of fact” or “my fellow colleagues” of “for all intents and purposes” of “in my opinion” or “for me”.

Edited by Ginny Wong

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Control your (writing) urges

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