Strip unnecessary words from your writing

In April 2014, the Globe and Mail published a list of ten words you can remove from anything you write. It’s a great idea, since leaner writing is often clearer writing.

I’ll take this tip one step further. Instead of simply keeping the list handy (and building on it over time), get your word processor to flag these words whenever you use them.

As an example, let’s use number two on the list: “really.” Not my favorite word, and I tend to avoid it (unless I need to use it for dialog, or for illustrative purposes as I’m doing here). I want to catch myself writing this word instead of blindly doing so and moving on.

To do this, I use Microsoft Word’s AutoText feature. Depending on the version of Word you use, AutoText can be found in different places:

  • Word 2013: Insert ribbon, Quick Parts menu
  • Word 2011 for Mac: Preferences

Here’s a screen shot of me adding a “flag” for a word:


The flag is simply the word followed by a bunch of question marks. It reminds me to ask myself whether I (ahem) really need to include this word in my writing.

Once I click the Add button (highlighted in blue) and the OK button, the entry is saved. Now, when I use the word in my writing, here’s what Word shows me:


Word reminds me that I might not need this word by displaying the yellow box above the word as I write it. I can ignore Word’s AutoText suggestion here if I want to, but the reminder is what matters.

Other word processors feature similar tools. You can even buy software like WordRake and Stylewriter (both Windows only) that take the concept even further. Both tools are discussed in this article.

Do you have any tips that help you keep your writing lean? Please share them in the comments below.

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