W1: Use strong, specific language. 



Incorrect Example

Correct Examples

a) Replace weak verbs (is-was-were-had-got) with verbs that show action. 

He was often destructive. 

He often destroyed things. 

Lucy is the person that I wrote to.

I wrote to Lucy. 

 There was a bird flying in the mulberry tree. 

A bird flew in the mulberry tree. 

I was just sitting there helplessly watching it happen. 

Helplessly, I watched it happen. 

She had behaviors that were inappropriate for the situation. 

She behaved inappropriately for the situation. 

b) Write with specific words, not vague ones. 

Avoid words like these: a lot, good, like, lots, nice, some, sort of, stuff, things, etc. 

Use words that apply specifically to your topic.  The lifeless words at left can be applied to anything. 

c) Pronouns must be clear. 

When Caesar and the barbarian chieftain met in battle, he was quickly defeated. 

When Caesar and the barbarian chieftain met in battle, Caesar was quickly defeated. 

d) Avoid all-inclusive or all-exclusive words.

Always, anybody, all, everyone, every time, everything, whatever;  No one, never, nothing


e) Avoid words that weaken the meaning of the writing. 

He was sort of a great general. 

He was kind of skinny. 

He was a great general. 

He was skinny.  

f) Find a strong word instead of putting “really” or “very” in front of a plain one.


I picked a really boring book. 

I picked a lifeless book.   

I picked a tedious book.

I picked a dreary book. 

I picked a mind-numbing book. 

I picked a wearisome book. 

I picked an insipid book. 

g) Avoid clichés. 

 He was always there for me. 


I had her back through the whole affair.





The wishy-washy writer uses weak nouns (like destruction) instead of strong verbs (like destroy).  The wimp writes,

The storm resulted in the destruction of the building,

instead of

The storm destroyed the building.

Patricia T. O’Conner

When you’re describing something or someone, you can’t just chose dull words like “beautiful”, “pretty”, or “nice”.  You must search for more meaty and imaginative words.

Roald Dahl

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very."  Your editor will delete it and the writing will then be just as it should be. 

Mark Twain