“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
— Agatha Christie
“As Mark Twain famously wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” His point? Strong writing is lean writing.
When you want to make your writing more powerful, cut out words you don’t need–such as the 10 included in this post:
1. Just: The word “just” is a filler word that weakens your writing. Removing it rarely affects meaning, but rather, the deletion tightens a sentence.
2. Really: Using the word “really” is an example of writing the way you talk. It’s a verbal emphasis that doesn’t translate perfectly into text. In conversation, people use the word frequently, but in written content it’s unnecessary. Think about the difference between saying a rock is “hard” and “really hard,” for example. What does the word add? Better to cut it out to make your message stronger.
3. Very: Everything that applies to “really” applies to “very.” It’s a weak word. Cut it.
4. Perhaps/maybe: Do you want your audience to think you’re uncertain about what you’re saying? When you use words like “maybe” and “perhaps,” uncertainty is exactly what you’re communicating.
5. Quite: When someone uses “quite,” he or she either means “a bit” or “completely” or “almost.” Sometimes the word adds meaning; sometimes it’s fluff. Learn to tell the difference–but, when in doubt, cut it out.
6. Amazing: The meaning of “amazing” is causing great wonder or surprise–but some writers use the word so often that the meaning gets lost. How can something be amazing if everything is? Ditch this diluted word.
7. Literally: When something is true in a literal sense, you don’t have to add the word “literally.” The only reason it makes sense to use the word is when it clarifies meaning (i.e., to explain you aren’t joking when it seems you are).
8. Stuff: Unless you are aiming at informality, don’t use the word “stuff.” It’s casual, it’s generic, and it usually stands in for something better.
9. Things: Writers use the word “things” to avoid using a clearer, more specific word that would communicate more meaning. Be specific. Don’t tell us about the “10 things,” tell us about the “10 books” or “10 strategies.” Specificity makes for better writing.
10. Got: Think of all the ways we use the vague word “got” in conversation: “I’ve got to go,” “I got a ball,” or “I got up this morning.” Though it’s fine for conversation, in writing, “got” misses valuable opportunities. Rather than writing a lazy word, look for clearer, more descriptive language: “I promised I’d leave by 9,” “I picked up a ball,” or “I woke up today,” for example.
Whether you’ve been writing for a few days or for many years, you’ll benefit from evaluating the words you use. Cut the filler to make your writing stronger.”
Although this article was written specifically for students, the professional world can gain great insights from the tools and tips suggested.
“The best way to avoid plagiarism is to understand what it is. Then take steps to avoid committing either accidental or intentional plagiarism. Before we define plagiarism, however, there are three other terms that we need to define—quotation, paraphrase, andsummary.
Quotation: A quotation must use the exact words of the source. If the quotation is relatively short (usually fewer than 3 lines or 40 words), those words must be enclosed in quotation marks. For instance,
Longer quotations are given in block quotations (see the quotations from Ed White and john Edlund later on in this entry).
Paraphrase: To paraphrase is to put the ideas in a passage into our own words, usually following the order in which the ideas were presented in the original. All major ideas are included. Usually a paraphrase is a bit shorter than the original, but when terms or concepts have to be defined, a paraphrase might actually be longer. Any paraphrase requires the same kind of citation as an exact quotation.
There are only three good reasons for paraphrasing:
Summary: A summary puts the major idea(s) of a passage into our own words and significantly shortens it. Once again, you must attribute the ideas to the original source.
Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s ideas or language without acknowledging that they were not created by you. This definition applies to ideas, words and unusual structures regardless of where you find them—in a book, on a webpage, in an email. Whenever you include another person’s information or wording in a document, you must acknowledge the source and include a citation that will tell your readers where you obtained it—otherwise you are guilty of plagiarism.
Plagiarism is sometimes seen as intellectual theft–plagiarism.
Accidental plagiarism usually occurs because we do not understand the cultural conventions of academic writing and citation. In most western countries, and certainly in the United States, there is a very real sense that writers own their ideas and the words they use to express those ideas. As John R. Edlund explains in “What Is ‘Plagiarism’ and Why Do People Do It?”:
There are two important factors that must be understood in order to understand American concepts of plagiarism. First, in the English-speaking world, people believe that ideas and written expressions of ideas can be owned. When an author writes down a particular set of words and phrases expressing a specific idea, this author in effect owns those words and that idea. Therefore to use these words without giving the author credit is to steal them. This is very different, for example, from the Chinese idea that words and ideas belong to the culture and the society and should be shared by all individuals (Myers 11). Second, Americans believe that writing is a visible, concrete demonstration of a writer’s knowledge, insight, and academic skill. Thus, to represent another person’s writing as your own is to misrepresent your own accomplishments. This is a type of fraud or deception. [Italics and boldface added] http://www.calstatela.edu/centers/write_cn/plagiarism.htm (14 Jan. 2004).
Cultural Confusion: In other words, there are many cultural differences in the way people use the ideas and language of others. In the United States, plagiarism is a serious offense. So, in spite of what your own home culture says and feels about the use of others’ ideas, the old advice—“when in Rome, do as the Romans do”—applies to the use of sources—“when in the United States (and several other western countries), cite sources.”
And if you are in doubt, always ask your professor, your TAS, or the lecturers in the Writing and Communication Center for guidance.
Difficult Concepts: In addition to cultural confusion, at times we slide into plagiarism when we are dealing with concepts that we simply do not understand, and it seems that the best way to convey those ideas to our readers is simply to use the words of the original author. If we quote those words and cite the source, we have taken a significant step in avoiding plagiarism. But, unless we actively engage with the ideas themselves (e.g., paraphrasing them in our own words after the quotation, summarizing them, or, better still, arguing or supporting them with our own ideas and evidence), we have not successfully mastered those ideas (but at least we have not committed plagiarism).
Botched Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is the process of turning a source passage into our own words. It is another way that we can unintentionally slip into plagiarism because we end up using large chunks of phrasing from the original or using the ideas without proper citation.
In any event, even if the plagiarism is unintentional, the consequences can still be very painful.
Plagiarism in the academic world can lead to everything from failure for the course to expulsion from the college or university.
Plagiarism in the professional world can lead to, at the very least, profound embarrassment and loss of reputation and, often, to loss of employment. Famous cases of plagiarism include the historian Stephen Ambrose (accusations about six of his books have been made, most famously about The Wild Blue) and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (who ended up asking the publisher to destroy all unsold copies of The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys). Such plagiarism is often accidental, but its consequences are the same as for intentional plagiarism.
There are five basic rules regarding the use of information in professional and in academic writing:
There are numerous reasons why people plagiarize (e.g., not having enough time to think about and write the paper, wanting to get a better grade, feeling that the course is irrelevant to their career plans and hence not worth their time or effort, insecurity about their own writing ability, struggles with a second language).
But there are better reasons for not plagiarizing.
“Every writer has his or her own intellectual identity, though most ideas inevitably come from outside sources. A responsible use of sources recognizes that identity and distinguishes clearly between what you think and what the sources think. It is no sin to accept another person’s idea…. But you must interpose yourself between the sources and your writing, thus making other peoples’ ideas your own through a process of critical scrutiny.”—Ed White and Lynn Bloom (qtd. in an email from Ed White, citing the book he and Bloom edited, Inquiry, Prentice Hall, 1993, p. 445).
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