Words to avoid in writing

10 Words that Make Your Teachers Cringe

Academic writing can be tough to tackle. We usually don’t write research papers in the same way we talk or text in our everyday lives. Prime example: when have you ever wrote “yeah” or “hahaha” in a class paper?

Since writing for an assignment uses a different “voice,” it can make the tone of papers and other projects difficult to master. Avoid the following words in your writing, and you will be off to a great start!

For those seeking general writing help, EasyBib Plus has an automated grammar check that will scan your paper and provide suggestions on how to improve your grammar and writing style.

1. Really

Part of speech:  adverb

Example sentence:  Global warming is a really big problem that we must solve.

Why you should avoid it:  Really” is just a bit too informal to use in academic writing, and it doesn’t add too much to your argument most of the time. Try using words that are a little more specific and convey more nuance, such as “exceptionally” or “uncommonly.” 

2. Never/Always

Part of speech:  adverb

Example sentence:  Politicians always have the best interests of the people they represent in mind.

Why you should avoid it:  Using words like “never” and “always” are tricky in academic writing, as they are definitive and doesn’t give wiggle room for exceptions. You can almost always find an example that makes any argument untrue, so using absolutes is typically not a great idea.

3. Firstly

Part of speech:  adverb

Example sentence:  Firstly, I will discuss the importance of education in American society.

Why you should avoid it:  Transitions are important, but ditch words like “firstly” and “lastly” in your writing. Those words were important when you were first learning to write in middle school, but now, focus on making clear topic sentences that will transition your reader without these filler words.

4. By

Part of speech:  preposition

Example sentence:  The cake was baked by Sarah.

Why you should avoid it:  Try and avoid passive voice in your writing at all costs. If you see the word “by” appear frequently, you might need to change some of your sentences to the active voice. Active voice means that the subject of the sentence is performing the action, and it is better to use in your writing because it is generally clearer and less wordy.

Take the example sentence above. In active voice, it changes to “Sarah baked the cake.”

5. Don’t

Part of speech:  verb

Example sentence:  They don’t know how to drive the car.

Why you should avoid it:  Contractions like “don’t” are too informal to use in academic writing. This means that other contractions like “won’t” and “can’t” should be off limits too. This will make your writing sound more professional.

6. Basically

Part of speech:  adverb

Example sentence:  Raising the minimum wage would affect basically all Americans.

Why you should avoid it:  The word “basically” is a no-go for a few reasons. First of all, it is just a little too informal. Try using words that provide more context, such as “substantially” or “essentially.”

Also, the word is probably filler that can be taken out without changing the sentence’s meaning at all. For example, the example sentence still makes sense without “basically”: “Raising the minimum wage would affect all Americans.”

7. Etc.

Part of speech: adverb

Example sentence: Our school offers languages like Spanish, French, German, etc.

Why you should avoid it: “Etc.” is short for the Latin expression et cetera, which means “and others.” While etc. has its place, formal academic writing is not the right one. It implies a sense of laziness and casualness that your teacher will not appreciate. 

8. Got

Part of speech:  verb

Example sentence:  The plants got bigger after being treated with fertilizer.

Why you should avoid it:  “Got” is another one of those informal verb forms that is best used in everyday speech and not your writing. Using constructions like “I have” or “I became” instead of “I got” will improve and elevate your writing. Always look for more specific verbs if possible!

9. Interesting

Part of speech:  adjective

Example sentence:  The effect of invasive species on their environments is interesting.

Why you should avoid it:  The word “interesting” is the exact opposite of interesting. It has been overused so much that it is practically meaningless! Odds are that if you are writing about a topic, it is already interesting, so chuck this word in favor of adjectives that provide more flavor.

10. Literally

Part of speech:  adverb

Example sentence:  The moon landing literally changed Neil Armstrong’s life.

Why you should avoid it:  Literally is almost always misused in both writing and conversations. In addition to confusion about how to use the word, it doesn’t add much value when used correctly. Use words like “unquestionably “or “precisely” instead.

Follow these tips and you will start to build a better tone in your writing assignments, as well as confidence in your writing.


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