There are more than a quarter of a million words in the English language, according to Oxford Dictionaries. Our main vernacular is made up of words and phrases that lexicographers decide should be included in the dictionary. These words can be a blessing or a curse. They can help you tell a story, explain a situation or entertain others. However, overusing words can be detrimental in some instances.
Selective word usage is particularly important in the field of public relations. A task that a PR professional does on a regular basis is communicating with reporters. Most of the time, these conversations are initiated through printed (or typed) communication, such as an email or a news release. In this technologically savvy age, reporters receive hundreds of emails a day – many of them from PR people. Due to this, reporters do not have the time to read through mindless words that serve no purpose but to fill space. Many of these words are useless because they are meaningless, obvious or redundant.
Here are a few of these words that you should avoid using, according to Shanna Mallon with Ragan Communications.
Just. Personally, I am guilty of often using the word “just” in my professional and personal life. But when I think about it, it really is a meaningless filler word. For example, when typing that sentence, I naturally typed, “It really just is a meaningless filler word.” Including it would have brought nothing to the sentence, except to make the sentence four characters longer. The definition of “just” is “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair” when used as an adjective. It can also be used as an adverb to mean “exactly” or “very recently; in the immediate past.” Neither of these definitions would have justified the way that I was trying to use the word in that sentence.
Really/very. These words are examples of writing the way you talk. They do not translate well into digital communication. The emphasis given when verbally using these words is lost when converted into text.
Perhaps/maybe. These words portray uncertainty in your writing. A journalist’s job is to get the facts out quickly. When you use vernacular that imposes that your content is questionable, your message is more likely to be ignored.
Things/stuff. These words are useless in communicating a message. Additional statements with more specific content are needed in order to communicate a complete idea in text. For example, think about this sentence: “I used the things on the counter to clean up that stuff on the floor.” I understand the concept of the sentence, but still need more information to fully understand what is being communicated. Using more specific words can simplify the sentence structure, such as “I used the paper towels to clean up the spilled milk.”
Besides these filler words, there are many words that are overused in communication efforts by public relations professionals. This past year, Shift Communications conducted research to find the most overused words in news releases in 2012. Among the top used were global, forwards, solution, international and leading. Check out this infographic to view the rest of their findings.
So next time you are typing an email or writing a news release, be cautious of the words you are using. It would be a shame to lose a great story because you lost a reporter’s attention by using unnecessary words. As the saying goes, quality is what matters, not quantity.