Just – Do – Get – Out of the Way for Better Writing
This is not a weird rip-off of Nike’s affirmative tagline, Just Do It! These are the words that haunt my writing making it slag and drag with boring words. Do you have a bad habit in your writing? The same three might plague you as well. Extraneous words make boring copy.
Admitting there’s a problem is the first step. Double check your writing by reading each word in reverse order. This way you will view each word individually instead of anticipating what word comes next. You’ll also be more likely to notice if there’s a repetitive word.
Just a Minute
I’ve overused the word ‘just’ for years. I use it in front of a little, a tad, a bit. I also use it instead of only, solely, and all (as in “you just need to _______”). The worst is as a qualifier—just a PR consultant or just a work-at-home mom—it never belongs in front of a role or occupation! It’s belittling and disrespectful.
Let me say that again:
NEVER PUT THE WORD “JUST” IN FRONT OF A ROLE OR OCCUPATION!
If you find you’ve done that, ALWAYS change it to an aspirational descriptor like fabulous, valuable, qualified, sought after, or respected as a way to support what you and others are doing and the important roles you fill every day.
The truth is, the word is rarely needed and is just in the way.
That Thing You Do
‘Do’ is a general word. It works for Nike (Just Do It!) and for Mountain Dew (Do the Dew!) because everyone can internalize the statement and believe the tagline is referring to what the they do best. When I find that I am using ‘do’ instead of a specific verb, I substitute something more interesting or active—maybe something punchy–that doesn’t leave any question about what I need to do.
“I just need to do a report” becomes “I only need to write/create/compose/author a report.”
If you give instruction to others on a regular basis as a parent, teacher, or manager, then you know that saying, “Don’t do that,” is not nearly as effective as saying, “Stop running,” or the more affirmative “please walk.”
I Get You
While we get each other and try hard not to get COVID-19 and other viruses, it is not the most ideal word to elevate your writing—if you care to do that. It sounds sort of slangy and colloquial like what a farmer says to crows in his field, “Get! Go! Get off my corn!” Maybe that’s “git,” I’m not sure, but either of those can be improved and possibly abolished from formal writing.
Jack, the leader at tofluency.com points out that there are 10 ways to use the word get. That must be a real beast for an English language learner. Maybe, just skip that lesson and learn other, more specific, less ambiguous words.
“We’re getting married!” might seem hard to avoid, however you can say, “Jack (or Mary or Buford …) proposed and I said yes!” or quicker, “We’re engaged!”
I don’t need to “get going,” I need to “leave.”
The only tip from Strunk and White in The Elements of Style is not to use the colloquial “have got” instead of “have,” and the preferred participle form is got, not “gotten.” Hey, I have an idea! Choose more interesting verbs! Enough said.
The proof is in the reading. Reading it aloud is even better. You will hear words that you use often as you read them. Moving backward through a document will also help you avoid some common misused words that spellcheck will not identify. I often mistype “on the” as “not he” and spellcheck just won’t find that for me. You might also avoid referring to your co-worker Brian as Brain—though he might prefer the typo.
If you think you don’t have any bad habits in your writing, ask anyone who reads what you write and don’t get mad when they tell you. That stinging feeling is a growing pain.
Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Sign-up on her website today to receive helpful insights like this one in your inbox. See how easy your promotional efforts can be here.