Skip to content

15+ Worthless Words to Cut to Improve Your Readers’ Experience


Editor’s note: We’ve updated this article with a new version that has additional useless words that you should avoid.

Let’s be honest: Nobody likes flab, especially when it comes to content.

Few things are worse than coming across a chunk of copy stuffed with icky, flabby, worthless words that don’t need to be there. They’re distracting and alienating, and it drives your readers away. 

To become a better writer and provide more value to your readers, get rid of these 15+ words sooner rather than later:

1. In order to

OK, it’s not a word – it’s a phrase. But still. This is one of the flabbiest things I see. Plenty of people use the phrase, but not one sentence would stop working if “in order to” was deleted. This one small change makes the statement clearer.

2. Really

“Really” clogs your content. Think of it this way: If you’re saying something is “really” tall, you’re missing the mark. How tall is it? Quantify it. If something has “really” improved, readers want to know how much. Qualify it. While the purpose of “really” is to exaggerate something, readers respond better to text that gets more granular in its measurements. With that in mind, swap this vague term out for a more accurate descriptor. If you can’t be more descriptive, delete “really.”

The word 'really' clogs your #content. Don’t use it, says @JuliaEMcCoy. #writingtips Share on X

3. Believe and think

“Believe” and “think” both imply that something is either opinion or that nobody is sure how valid it actually is. Both are bad for your copywriting. People are more interested in the facts and hard information than they are in vague thoughts. What’s more, even if you are writing an opinion piece, readers should understand that based on the context, making “I think” a needless phrase.

These two words also are used when a writer isn’t sure about the statistic or fact, and that is dangerous. Again, readers want solid information, and merely “thinking” a statistic is true isn’t enough to get it past the firing squad. Don’t include if the fact needs to be qualified as a thought or belief.

4. A lot

“A lot” is similar to “really” in terms of vagueness and flab. Saying something is “a lot different than it used to be” robs your readers of an experience. While they understand that something has changed, they don’t know what it was or how much it’s shifted. They want more specific information to make good decisions and to connect with your writing on a deeper level.

Instead of using these vague phrases, replace them with hard-and-fast statistics. Go for percentages, pounds, solid units of measurement. Those quantifiable terms perform better than the old standby “a lot.”

5. Always and never

These two aren’t flabby, but they are seldom true. If you say, “Marketers never consider their clients,” you’re horribly off base. Applying an all-inclusive adjective paints with too broad a brush on the topic and is reckless. Instead, opt for “few” or “rare” if you need to quantify but don’t have the numbers. The same thing applies for “always.” Instead opt for words like “most” or “many.”

6. Stuff

Stuff is a downright unprofessional term that harms your content. It is not descriptive or specific. Instead define what that “stuff” is. Consider these two headlines: “Stuff You Should Do for a More Successful Blog” or “5 Writing Tricks for a More Successful Blog.” The second headline is specific and clearly states what the article is about, which is more helpful to your readers.

7. Just

The only time “just” has a place in your content is when you’re talking about something being just as in “fair.” For example, “The trial was just.” Uses of “just” to imply something is small or inefficient (e.g., “She just couldn’t do it”) don’t add anything to the sentence. In most cases, you can remove the word “just” without affecting the sentence’s meaning.

8. That

“That” may seem like an inoffensive word, but it’s usually not necessary. For example, “It’s the most delicious cake that I’ve eaten” could just as easily be “It’s the most delicious cake I’ve eaten.” Remove this flabby word for more streamlined content.

9. Then

“Then” makes your writing stammer, which is the opposite of what you want for professionally created content. To smooth your text, remove the word “then” whenever the sentence still makes sense without it. And don’t start sentences with “then” because it makes the sentences sound clunky and can make them difficult to read.

10. Literally

People frequently misuse the word “literally.” It means exactly. Whether used correctly or incorrectly, the word often is superfluous. Get rid of it or replace it with something more descriptive and precise.

11. Virtually

Virtually means nearly or almost, or by means of virtual reality technique. In most cases, the sentence makes sense without this flabby addition. Unless you’re talking about someone who works remotely, virtually has no place in your writing.

Unless you’re talking about someone who works remotely, 'virtually' has no place in writing, says @JuliaEMcCoy. Share on X

12. Completely and entirely

You can remove “completely” entirely from your sentences without affecting them (and “entirely” too). If you want to emphasize or visualize the completeness, use more descriptive terms. For example, “the cup was filled to the brim with water,” works much better than “the cup was filled completely with water.”

13. So

“So” is another word that doesn’t do much. Despite this, however, many people still use it, particularly as a transition or explanatory word. Delete it without affecting the sentence’s meaning.

14. Got

“Got” is a lazy word because it doesn’t tell people much about how or why someone got something. Look for words that add power such as “obtained” and “earned.”

15. Often

“Often” teases readers by telling them that something happens frequently without being clear. With this in mind, replace “often” with a descriptive term such as “five times a week” or “20 times a day.”

Strive for stronger writing

Cutting or replacing flabby words is a key component to improving your writing. You must edit yourself mercilessly. As you read each word or sentence, consider whether it contributes to your meaning. If not, get rid of it.

As you get rid of the flab, you can build up the muscles in your content:

  • Use action verbs
  • Limit the use of adjectives
  • Avoid idiomatic expressions

As you write in a way that’s easier for people to understand, your content is more likely to attract more readers, which should deliver better results for your content marketing program.

To ensure that your content development is effective, subscribe to receive the free CMI newsletter for expert tips, great examples, and more.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute