Words To Avoid in Educational Writing

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

I’m no English major, but as a writer and consumer of loads of educational (mostly tech) writing, I’ve come to notice a number of words and phrases that come up fairly often and don’t add anything to the writing. In fact, they might detract from it.

This started as a Twitter discussion so I thought I’d write it up more clearly.

Here are some of those words:

1. Obviously

Now that the child elements are floated, obviously the parent element will collapse and we’ll have to deal with that.

This is possibly the most common offender. Not everything is as obvious as you might think it is. That fact that you said it should be might make me feel extra-dumb at a vulnerable moment. And what if it is obvious to me? That word doesn’t help me. Sentences usually work better with that word omitted.

2. Basically

Basically you just bind the click event and call the function when it fires.

You could probably use fewer words and explain it more clearly. Another case where the sentence is usually stronger with that word omitted.

3. Simply

Simply add a new line to the router pointing to the new controller.

It might be simple, but it would read better without that word. It’s an instruction, it doesn’t need any flair.

4. Of course

Of course the retina images are too large for non-retina screens.

You should make that clear with words or diagrams that explain why, rather than just telling me something should be self-evident that may or may not be to me.

5. Clearly

Clearly the function returns another function.

If it was so clear, you wouldn’t need to tell me how clear it is.

6. Just

Just open your vector editing program of choice and change the color.

The word just in this context is an add-on word to make it seem more casual. There are better ways to be casual than adding words.

7. Everyone knows

More kilobytes means it takes longer to load. Everyone knows that’s a bad thing.

If I don’t know that, I’m immediately alienated and start to think that I’m reading the wrong thing. You can imagine variations like “As we all know,”.

8. However

However, be careful about how many libraries you use.

There are useful ways to use the word however, but starting new sentences or sections of text with it can be a useless transitional word.

9. So

So, if you’re interested, get in touch!

Used like this, so is a transitional word to separate some previous sentences from this ending. A new paragraph without the extra word is probably in order here.

10. Easy

Alter the X and Y coordinates to move the element to the new location. Easy.

An attempt to be reassuring and casual, but a frustrating bummer if what was supposed to be easy doesn’t go so easily for a reader.

I’m an offender

I’m sure there are plenty of great uses for all these words. Language isn’t as simple as THESE WORDS ARE GOOD AND THESE ARE BAD. It’s a nuanced thing. In educational writing, being clear and direct is valuable and appreciated. Skip the filler words and save the casual vibe for a time when you aren’t trying to explain something complicated.

I’m sure I’ve used all these words and otherwise bungled sentences all through this site. Feel free to call me out on it. I’m happy to revisit writing to make it better, particularly if something is unclear.