Useless Words

Although it may not seem like it at first, this article actually does have a point. In the beginning, that point is made indirectly, yet by example, whereas toward the end, the point will become directly clear. In a way, it is a sort of mystery, dropping a few subtle clues, which will (hopefully) seem to be obvious when revealed later.

Yes indeed, the matter is plain to see, right before your eyes, under your nose, just waiting for you to grab it (so just reach out and take it, please). If you haven’t guessed it yet – the point of this article, that is – keep trying. There will certainly be many more opportunities to do so. Absolutely, positively!

Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve already figured it out. Well, if you’re presently thinking that the entire article is wastefully useless, that’s not it. (This entire article might actually, in fact, be useless, but that’s not the point that this article is trying to make.) But the title of the article is a hint, and it doesn’t just relate to this article, but to the process of writing in general.

Spoiler alert: Ready or not, here comes the answer. The point is that most writers have a natural tendency to include many useless words in their writing (without even knowing it). Realizing which types of words may be useless can impact our writing and our revising.

So which words are useless? There are many kinds of useless words and phrases.

One type is a tautology. For example, “wastefully useless” is redundant. There are also other sorts of redundancies in meaning. The first two sentences are repetitive with “at first” and “in the beginning,” for instance.

Another sort of word that can be wasteful is an adverb. Stephen King said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” One school of thought about writing suggests to avoid using adverbs that end with -ly (as opposed to a few that don’t, like “well”). For example, consider “directly clear” in the first paragraph. Was it really helpful to include the word “directly”? The end of the second paragraph, “absolutely, positively,” combines these two ideas together with redundant adverbs.

Sometimes, adverbs do add meaning, but when they do, it is often passively rather than actively. For instance, “she returned to her bedroom sadly” tells that she was sad, whereas “she wiped the tears from her eyes on her way to the bedroom” shows that she was sad.

Various forms of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, been, etc.) also tend to tell rather than show, and can also be useless words. I could easily remove “to be” from “seem to be obvious” in the first paragraph. Replacement of the verb “to be” may mean removing a couple of short words in favor of a few longer words. For example, compare “it is very cold today” with “although he wore a thick jacket, a scarf, a ski hat, and mittens, he was still shivering.”

Some words and phrases are essentially filler – that is, the same information can often be conveyed without using them. (It’s true! See!) Check out the very first word of this article: although. Others used in this article include “that,” “whereas,” “in fact,” “in general,” and “as opposed to.”

Comments in parentheses and footnotes can distract (like this one, which interrupts the flow of the sentence) the reader. This is necessary to insert a note that may be helpful to many readers, but sometimes the note may not really be needed or there may be an alternative to interrupting the text.

I’m not saying to eliminate every use of “is” and “was,” remove all adverbs that end with -ly, never write a passive sentence, or completely avoid filler words and comments. Each of these can be used effectively in moderation, and some may help to develop your sense of style. However, it may be fun to look at some of your writing and see if you tend to use any useless words. If you see that you do, you might consider what alternatives you may have had. In the end, you might be happy with it the way it is, but at least you’ll know that those words are there.

Let me acknowledge Pat Fitzhugh’s article, called “Three Simple Writing Tips,” which helped to inspire my article. I recommend checking out:

Chris McMullen, self-published author of Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

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