Posted by: episystechpubs | July 1, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Eliminate Weasel Words

Today we have the fourth tip from “10 Top Writing Tips and the Psychology Behind Them,” by Josh Bernoff. (Website link available from last Thursday’s post.)

Tip 4: Eliminate weasel words.

Why it matters. Words like “generally” and “most” make your writing sound weak and equivocal.

Why you use weasel words. You’re afraid of making a bold statement; these words give you an out. When you don’t say anything, you can’t be wrong.

How to fix it. Delete the weasel words, then read the resulting statement. If it’s too bold, write the strongest, clearest statement you can to take its place. (If no bold statement applies, you have nothing to say, so delete the sentence.) For example, this Wall Street Journal native ad piece includes the sentence “Most companies with traditional business models probably have a few radical developers on staff.” Rewrite as “Every company has a radical developer or two.”

Here are some more examples of weasel words from The Write at Home Blog:

  • A growing body of evidence…
  • Studies show/indicate/reveal…
  • It is commonly known/understood/believed…
  • As everyone/everybody knows…
  • Experience shows/indicates/proves…
  • Evidence indicates…
  • Critics claim…
  • It stands to reason…
  • People say…
  • It has been claimed/said…
  • Reason dictates…
  • It is generally understood…
  • Popular wisdom has it…
  • It has been mentioned…
  • Commonsense indicates/insists/proves…
  • Some argue…
  • Up to 50%… (everything from 0-50% is “up to 50%”)
  • More than 50%… (everything from 51-100% is “more than 50%”)
  • A vast majority…
  • A recent study at a leading university…
  • It is known that…

It’s no weasel, but it’s me with a Scottish hedgehog!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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