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10 Words You’ll Want to Cut Out of Your Next Paper

One of the best tricks for improving your writing is to take a look at the vocabulary you use. As you advance and become a better writer, your choice of words should continue to improve and become more versatile and sophisticated as well. Along the way, there are a few words that you should seriously consider cutting down on using – or cutting out altogether!

1.  You

In everyday speech, we use the second person quite often, either to directly address someone or to represent an amalgamation of any readers or people other than the writer/speaker. For informal writing or something addressed at a specific reader (like this blog article!), it’s okay to use. However, in formal writing, the use of “you” (pronoun) and its variations will weaken the essay. “You” is too informal for academic or business writing, and “you” sentence constructions (i.e., “you can see that X is true”) are less decisive than simpler sentences (i.e., “X is true”).

2. Really/Very

“Really” (adverb) and “very” are the supermarket cupcakes of descriptive words: they’ll do the trick, but they’re so bland and non-specific that nearly any other word would be an improvement. There are plenty of other words that can be used to intensify a noun or adjective without having to resort to that boring old “very” or “really.”

3. Sort of

When you’re writing an essay, you want to sound authoritative on your topic of choice – that’s the entire point, right? “Sort of” undercuts your knowledge from the get-go: it’s a wishy-washy phrase that creates wiggle room where you don’t want there to be any. If you need to describe an ambiguous situation, try for a more specific description of that particular ambiguity. Note: this goes for other variations like “kind of” as well!

4. Just

This is the perfect example of another wishy-washy weasel word that allows a writer to be non-committal or downplay their own points. Whenever you’re tempted to insert “just” into a sentence, resist the urge and read the sentence without “just” in it. Does it still make the same point you intended? Great. If not, it might be one of those rare moments where “just” is actually necessary (to make a contrast, perhaps); in that case, you have full permission to use it.

5. Irregardless

There’s one very good reason not to use this word: it’s not actually a word. As a writing instructor, even at the college level, this was quite possibly the single most common word-choice mistake I saw. “Regardless” is the word you’re looking for; “irregardless” does not exist.

Spare yourself (and your professors/classmates/bosses) the awkwardness.

6. Thing

Much like “really” and “very,” “thing” is a wildly non-specific word that isn’t bad but can be replaced by an infinite number of more specific, more interesting words. Within an academic context, there’s rarely a situation where “thing” (noun) is a better word that some other, more particular noun.

7. Any conjugation of “to go”

This one pops up most often in creative writing, but it may show up in professional or academic work as well. Think about it: what kind of images or connotations does “went” or “goes” conjure up? It’s pretty generic. For instances where you need to convey movement or change, find a different, more vivid word – it’ll give you the freedom to embrace all the connotations and subtle cues that a basic word like “goes” doesn’t have.

8. Amazing

“Amazing” (adjective) has two major downsides. One: it’s become very informal language. It’s the sort of word you might use to enthusiastically describe a meal or a movie to your friends, but it feels like it doesn’t quite fit into a more formal context. The other problem: it’s so common that it’s been watered down. “Amazing” is used so often that it doesn’t have the strength you’re probably looking for.

9. Always/Never

Your parents might have already taught you this one, albeit in a different context. “Always” and “never,” unless statistically accurate from your own research or from a source you cited in your annotated bibliography, have the opposite problem of many of the words on this list: they’re too specific and box you into a statement that is absolute. In reality, absolutes are rare, so not only do “always” and “never” create weak or amateurish writing, but they’re also probably inaccurate.

10. Literally

In its actual definition, there’s nothing inherently wrong with “literally” (adverb) – it’s a great way to express contrast with something figurative. In reality, especially in recent years, “literally” has, ironically, become a figurative expression itself and is too often used as a deliberate exaggeration or a verbal tic.


While you’re improving your writing, make sure your references are included and correct. BibMe.org can help with APA citations, MLA works cited, a plagiarism definition, and more!

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Amanda Prahl

I'm your spy on the inside—MFA graduate and current college teacher, with strong opinions about show tunes, Jane Austen heroes, and the Oxford comma.