Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

How to Stop Overusing These 4 Common words in Your Writing

Improve your writing by avoiding the overuse of common words.

Someone once said something about writing a million words to find your voice. I agree it takes at least that many although I haven’t reached the milestone myself yet so I couldn’t say with any certainty. The words you write matter though. Writing ‘the’ one million times isn’t going to improve your writing. Each time you write, there should be some improvement from the last time.

Sometimes there’s no way to avoid the use of certain words, but that’s no reason to overuse them either.

Common words make your writing passive, boring, and can cause you to run out of thoughts about your topic because their overuse boxes you in.

Four Common Words to Avoid Using Over & Over

Common Word #1: If

Starting a sentence with ‘if’ can come across as lazy. It’s speculative and unclear. Writing in an active and authoritative voice means being certain about what you’re saying.

And here’s a little writer’s secret: most of us aren’t completely certain about what you’re saying, we’re only pretty sure and simply avoid writing like that.

Common Word #2: When

Similar to ‘if’, ‘when’ sounds as though you don’t know how to start your next thought. Rearrange words as often as possible to avoid making a statement and following up with, ‘when.’

Sentence: Overusing common words makes your writing boring. When your writing is boring, nobody wants to read it.

Instead: Writing with common words makes your writing boring.

No need to remind people what happens when their writing is boring because boring isn’t good or ambiguous. Nobody wants to have boring writing so they don’t need to be convinced to avoid it. ‘When’ is usually a precursor to filler content.

Common Word #3: This

Creativity takes a lot of thought. There are going to be times where you cannot avoid using words like ‘this’, ‘if’, and ‘when’ but just because that’s true, doesn’t mean you should use them frivolously. English isn’t a romance language so the words are naturally choppy and clunky.

Writing to entertain and build an audience, in English, means you have to work extra hard at developing a poetic flow.

Common Word #4: That

A fancy ‘this’, ‘that’ is an unknowingly worse offender. One of the most overused words in everyone’s writing, close to ‘just’ and ‘actually’, ‘that’ is complete filler 75% of the time. Avoid using it at all costs.

Search your articles for ‘that’ using ctrl+F and typing ‘that’ in the search bar. Now delete at least half. Don’t even rearrange the sentences, just remove the word. It’s like magic.

How to Stop the Overuse

Avoiding the overuse of these four words will make your writing better and you more creative. Forcing yourself to avoid certain words creates pathways in your brain so you’ll eventually be able to reword sentences quickly and easily. In addition to faster writing, better, you’ll be able to rework thoughts faster. Improved writing is improved thinking.

  1. Always rewrite your sentences to avoid these 4 words at the beginning.
  2. Avoid using the words in your rewrites.
  3. Use verbs to begin sentences, they’re more active.
  4. Avoid explaining to readers why they should trust your thoughts.
  5. Check the middle of your sentences for overuse too, these words are all interchangeable with ‘because’ (which it’s another word to avoid as often as possible).

Now go on, write to entertain, be active, avoid being boring, and consider avoiding doom content while you’re at it.

Want to chat about it? Come find me on Twitter or join my newsletter on Substack.

Lover of lattes, champagne, avocados, sleep, and my perfect family. The epitome of a liberal millennial snowflake.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store