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6 Words to Banish From Your Article-Writing Vocabulary

By Edited Aug 11, 2015 7 6

The oldest writing advice is "write what you know." The second oldest is: "show, don't tell." The following words violate the second rule, but fixing them will help you learn more about how to apply the first rule. Learn how to enliven your vocabulary for more interesting and polished writing by investigating your subjects a bit deeper.


This is one of the most overused adjectives in the English language—at least here in the United States. Everyone uses "great" to describe everything from a restaurant meal to a favorite teacher. Using this adjective just "tells" us the thing or person is wonderful, but it gives us no clue as to why. Try using more descriptive and creative ways to tell us why something or someone is so "great." For instance, it's easy to say a person is "a great teacher." But do you mean "great" as in effective, intuitive, energetic, creative, insightful, intelligent, or funny? All of these words can define "greatness" in so many different ways. Next time you're tempted to say or write that something or someone is "great," think of a new way to say it. You'll learn a lot more about your subject in the process, which is an admirable goal in itself.


Amazing is right up there with great—totally overused, and it means nothing, really. Why is the thing or person amazing? Technically, "amazing" means that the thing or person "amazes," which means doing or saying something out of the ordinary, something you haven't seen before; and it could be due to a wide range of reasons. Perhaps the person is amazingly bad, or did something amazingly stupid, or amazingly dangerous. Perhaps an object is unusually large, or breathtakingly beautiful, or so new you don't even recognize it. Before you use "amazing," give it some thought and write words that describe why something is amazing to you instead of just saying that it is.

Fantastic, Cool, Awesome

These words are similar to "amazing." We tend to choose one of these words when we can't think of anything else to say about something. Obviously you like whatever it is, but don't tell us that you like it; we've got that already; tell us why. Dig deeper; figure out what appeals to you about the thing, and then tell us about it.


The word "unique" means "one of a kind," and it is another word that is often used incorrectly as well as way too often. Instead of telling us that something is unique, say why. Perhaps it is a game that has a feature that no other game has. Perhaps it is a restaurant that serves something you've never seen anywhere else. Find out what the most unusual feature of the thing or person is, and describe it.

You don't have to memorize the dictionary or use new words just to use them; simply think about how to describe something without using these tired and worn-out words, and see how lively and interesting your writing becomes.


Nov 16, 2011 11:55am
I agree that most of the words are over used. It would have been nice to see some alternatives or examples of more effective words to use in place of these. Overall I think this was a "great," and "unique" article.
Dec 12, 2011 12:21pm
This is GREAT. I agree. I even find myself using them without really thinking.
Dec 12, 2011 12:24pm
while we're at it, can we eliminate intensifiers? either it's great or it's not great. don't say "very great" or "so great" or "really great". argh! it's driving me crazy just to type it! (great article!)
Dec 18, 2011 1:14am
Thanks for an excellent article. It is a reminder to me that I'm often lazy in my personal writing habits. I do think, however, that we can improve our English writing skills by reading good English literature from time to time. It also helps if one reads the news from above-average quality newspapers and magazines. Does anyone remember what those publications were like? We still have some to choose from, but their established income base -- advertising -- are sorely threatened by the Internet. Their subscriptions are down and shrinking as well.
Feb 23, 2012 6:08pm
These are easy ones to overuse. What I like to do when I'm writing is to have the MS Word Thesaurus pane open. It's easy to just type a word in and find related words to use. It adds sophistication to your writing and is not hard to use.
Aug 13, 2013 2:09pm
Very good words to "not live by!" (I know, double edged sword, with that proclamation. You'll have to guess which. Lol!) Oops, probably a phrase of double entendre-ness.

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