Jon Writes

The Brand Blog

4 words you need to stop overusing in your written content

Treat your words like instruments. Tools. A means to an end.

Depending on how you use them (and which ones you choose), your words can be so powerful they hit your readers with the force of a typhoon, leaving an indelible impression that lingers for days. Others are so effective they evoke the very feelings — outrage, sorrow, pity, excitement — you hope to convey in your storytelling.

Then, there are the weak words. They’re infirm. Useless. Boring.

They leech life from your sentences and make your branded content frail and dull. Like termites, these words seep into your writing undetected and eat away at the structure of what could be a compelling story.

As melodramatic and insidious as that sounds, there’s a simple fix. Stop overusing them. Here are four weak words you should consider omitting. 

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“That” (as a conjunction)

“That” is one of those words you may think is needed to connect a subject to an action. Half the time, it’s not.

“That” is filler. It takes up space and gets in the way of the actual action in a sentence.

Here’s an example: “She said that she needs to run to the store” can easily become “She said she needs to run to the store.”

You see how the edited sentence conveys the same meaning, despite the loss of one word? Losing “that” made the sentence shorter and more concise, which should be the ultimate goal of most content you write.

That’s not to say you never use “that” (case in point). It’s effective as a pronoun, like in this scenario: “Who’s that guy over there? That’s my best friend.”

You should also use it as a conjunction when introducing a subordinate clause unable to stand on its own, or when it sounds best for the sentence. Here’s a great rundown of when you should and shouldn’t use “that.”

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“I”

“I” is the simplest of the personal pronouns but also the quickest way to alienate your readers. What you write is rarely about you. Sure, it comes from you but it’s not about you.

It’s about your readers. Your audience. The people you want to engage with, sell to and convert into loyal customers or followers.

Make sure the focus stays on them. It’s OK to write in first-person if the situation calls for it — i.e., a blog post about your harrowing overseas adventure, a first-person account of a chilling encounter or the “About Me” page on your website.

But understand the context and purpose of your content.

If making sales is your end goal, “you” is a much more powerful — and effective — pronoun. “You” speaks directly to the reader and invites them into the world you’re creating with your words.

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“Being” or any variation thereof

If we judged words by boxing weight class, “being” would be pinweight — the lightest of the light. That’s because it lacks power.

Verbs are action words, and your content should be filled with them. These words do the heavy lifting. A word like "being," however, just sits there. Existing.

Example: “Well, being that today is Friday…” should be “Today is Friday.”

Simplicity is the name of the game and “being” often complicates sentences and causes them to languish.

There are exceptions. You may want to keep “being” in a sentence like this: “Are you being insolent?” It denotes a state of, well, being. But because your content should be filled with “doing” words, not “being,”  be conservative with how often you use it.

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“We”

At first blush, “we” may seem inclusive. And there are times when it is. There are also times when it’s just as effective at alienating and isolating as “I.”

Why? Because “we,” in the eyes of readers, can feel braggadocious.

Think like a consumer. If a company or brand you're interested in talks about all the great things “we” are doing to help you, it begins to feel a bit disingenuine, doesn’t it? You may get tired of hearing about all the new products and features “we” will unveil, and how “we” are giving you the best quality service.

Soon, “we” becomes them and they appear egotistical, narcissistic and self-serving. You get tired of hearing about “we” and start to wonder, “What about me?”

“We” is also presumptuous and makes it easier to foist emotion upon the reader that may not apply to them at all. For example, I might see an ad saying, “We know you’re ready to try a new hair-styling solution.”

My response: “No, you don’t know. I like my bald head. Leave me alone.”

Get more writing tips on the Jon Writes Brand Blog.