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Words and Phrases to Avoid in Your Professional Writing

Words and Phrases to Avoid in Your Professional Writing

“I live in the city of Phoenix, in the state of Arizona. I do my best work between the hours of 2pm and 4pm in the afternoon, for the simple reason that those are the hours I feel clearest and most awake. So I try to ignore interruptions during that period of time, in order to focus on work.”

Notice anything awful about that first paragraph? (And not that I have a boring life. That’s true, but not the point here.)

How many useless phrases did you catch in those first three sentences? Take another look, and lask yourself what phrases could be removed to make the paragraph more clear.

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How about the following?

  • The city of
  • The state of
  • The hours of
  • In the afternoon
  • For the simple reason that
  • Period of time
  • In order to

Want to write a terrible office document or work email? Stuff it with official-sounding but unnecessary phrases like these.

There are times when some of these phrases are useful. “He works for the city of New Orleans” might be a perfectly legitimate statement to indicate that the person works for the city’s government. But how about, “I live in the city of New Orleans” instead?  If you remove “the city of” and just write, “I live in New Orleans,” would your reader be confused? Would he or she think New Orleans is the name of your house?

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You’ve probably seen wasted phrases like these many times in the documents and emails you read at work. Here are a few more of my personal favorites.

  1. In the month of
.” Hmm. I’ll bet $10 that the next word here is going be one of the months.
  2. “Due to the fact that.” I’ll trade you for a shorter “because”—and you can keep the change.
  3. By virtue of. Hey, I’ve got another “because” handy.
  4. Conduct a review. Do yourself a favor and just “review”—you’ll be done sooner.
  5. A difficult dilemma.” As opposed to…an easy dilemma?

One of the reasons so many professionals write in this repetitive, bloated style is that they think their writing comes across as more professional this way, and so will be taken more seriously. “Between the hours of 2pm and 4pm in the afternoon.” Ooh, so formal, so impressive, yes?

No. What comes across, instead of professionalism, is that the person writing doesn’t trust the reader to understand that the period between “2pm and 4pm” is measured in hours, and not, say, inches or pesos. It also suggests the reader is too stupid to catch the writer’s clever code “pm” and needs to be told that these times are “in the afternoon.”

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Not everyone is intentionally bulking up their professional writing with formal words however – some write this way because they were trained to in secondary and even higher education. Page length and word count mattered in high school and college; in fact, our teachers often rewarded us for the physical heft of our documents. Did you ever finish writing a paper for school and, if it didn’t hit the minimum page length, try to fatten it up by stuffing an extra “that” everywhere you could? We all did that, right? (Or did I just make a really embarrassing confession?)

The point is this: unless your supervisor actually asks you to hit a minimum word count in your work-related documents, cut ruthlessly when you edit.

Relevant confession: in my first draft of that sentence above, I wrote, “cut ruthlessly during the editing process.” Is “editing process” clearer than “edit”?

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Another relevant confession: earlier in this article, where I wrote “documents,” in my first draft I actually wrote “written documents.” As opposed to what? “Finger-painted” documents? Cut. Be ruthless. Look for words that don’t make sense or repeat information that you already gave.

I leave you with these words of advice: nothing shows the seriousness and professionalism of your documents more powerfully than when you write them clearly, to the point, and without one unnecessary phrase.

Don’t waste words.

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robbie hyman

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:

1. Don’t go to every fight you’re invited to

Particularly when you’re around those who thrive on chaos, be willing to decline the invitation to join in on the drama.

2. Focus on your breath

Throughout the day, stop to take a few deep breaths. Keep stress at bay with techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then out for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Repeat this cycle four times.

3. Get organized and purge old items

A cluttered space often creates a cluttered spirit. Take the time to get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year and invest in organizational systems that help you sustain a level of neatness.

4. Stop yourself from being judgmental

Whenever you are tempted to have an opinion about someone else’s life, check your intentions. Judging others creates and promotes negative energy.

5. Say ‘thank you’ early and often

Start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude. Look for opportunities in your daily routine and interactions to express appreciation.

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6. Smile more

Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” there are many scientific benefits of smiling and laughing. Also, pay attention to your facial expression when you are doing neutral activities such as driving and walking. Turn that frown upside down!

7. Don’t worry about the future

As difficult as this sounds, there is a direct connection between staying in the present and living a more peaceful life. You cannot control the future. As the old proverb goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Practice gently bringing your thoughts back to the present.

8. Eat real food

The closer the food is to the state from which it came from the earth, the better you will feel in eating it. Choose foods that grew from a plant over food that was made in a plant.

9. Choose being happy over being right

Too often, we sacrifice inner peace in order to make a point. It’s rarely worth it.

10. Keep technology out of the bedroom

Many studies, such as one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have connected blue light of electronic devices before bed to adverse sleep and overall health. To make matters worse, many people report that they cannot resist checking email and social media when their cell phone is in reach of their bed, regardless of the time.

11. Make use of filtering features on social media

You may not want to “unfriend” someone completely, however you can choose whether you want to follow their posts and/or the sources of information that they share.

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12. Get comfortable with silence

When you picture someone who is the ultimate state of peace, typically they aren’t talking.

13. Listen to understand, not to respond

So often in conversations, we use our ears to give us cues about when it is our turn to say what we want to say. Practice active listening, ask questions, process, then speak.

14. Put your troubles in a bubble

Whenever you start to feel anxious, visualize the situation being wrapped in a bubble and then picture that sphere floating away.

15. Speak more slowly

Often a lack of peace manifests itself in fast or clipped speech. Take a breath, slow down, and let your thoughtful consideration drive your words.

16. Don’t procrastinate

Nothing adds stress to our lives like waiting until the last minute.

17. Buy a coloring book

Mandala coloring books for adults are becoming more popular because of their connection to creating inner peace.

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18. Prioritize yourself

You are the only person who you are guaranteed to live with 24 hours a day for the rest of your life.

19. Forgive others

Holding a grudge is hurting you exponentially more than anyone else. Let it go.

20. Check your expectations

Presumption often leads to drama. Remember the old saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

21. Engage in active play

Let your inner child come out and have some fun. Jump, dance, play, and pretend!

22. Stop criticizing yourself

The world is a hard enough place with more than enough critics. Your life is not served well by being one of them.

23. Focus your energy and attention on what you want

Thoughts, words, and actions all create energy. Energy attracts like energy. Put out what you want to get back.

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24. Assign yourself “complaint free” days.

Make a conscious decision not to complain about anything for a whole day. It might be harder than you think and the awareness will stick with you.

25. Surround yourself with people you truly enjoy being in the company of

Personalities tend to be contagious, and not everyone’s is worth catching. Be judicious in your choices.

26. Manage your money

Financial concerns rank top on the list of what causes people stress. Take the time each month to do a budget, calculate what you actually spend and sanity check that against the money you have coming in.

27. Stop trying to control everything

Not only is your inner control freak sabotaging your sense of peace, it is also likely getting in the way of external relationships as well.

28. Practice affirmations

Repeat positive phrases that depict the life and qualities you want to attract. It may not come naturally to you, but it works.

29. Get up before sunrise

Personally witnessing the dawn brings a unique sense of awe and appreciation for life.

30. Be yourself

Nothing creates more inner discord than trying to be something other than who we really are. Authenticity breeds happiness.

Featured photo credit: man watching sunrise via stokpic.com

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