JLV College Counseling

20+ words to avoid writing in your essay.

   Posted on March 13, 2018 by Jessica Velasco


words to not use in essay

Essays, assignments, admissions…

These words implicate the pain of students from all over the world, don’t you agree? They yet sound like a creepy snake whispering, “You shall not passsss!”

Most students hate writing essays. It’s difficult, time- and energy consuming, and challenging to complete them. A thesis, arguments, references, and conclusion are fundamental to every essay. But what makes yours stellar is words you use to convince readers. Words are your powerful weapon to prove critical thinking and knowledge of the topic. Words help you stand out in a crowd of other students writing about the same topics.

But here’s the problem:

Not all words are useful. Some are clunky and redundant , while others make your writing mumbling. Some you use for word count rather than meaning, and they make essays sound complicated yet empty.

For concise and meaningful writing, do your best to avoid these words and phrases in your admission essays.

1) Contractions

In essays, avoid abbreviations such as “ don’t ,” “ can’t ,” and “ won’t .” Academic works suppose using full words, so write them rather than contractions.

Set phrases enrich a language, but leave them for personal stories, blog posts, or fiction books. An admission essay is a task to check your skills of formal writing, not your ability to entertain or wow professors with flourished vocabulary. Stay clear and concise.

3-5) “ So on ,” “ etc ,” “ and so forth “

These run-on expressions demonstrate nothing but your inability to work with arguments, details, and examples. They scream, “I do not know what else to say!” Avoid them in your essays.

Phrases a la “ it’s an open secret ,” “ we all know ,” or “ sleep like a baby ” are clichés used so often that have lost relevance far long ago. They are a poor attempt to strike as clever, but such words sound false in sober fact.

7-11) “ Thing ,” “ stuff ,” “ good ,” “ bad ,” “ big “

The problem with these words is colloquiality and vagueness, inappropriate for academic language. It’s okay to use them in everyday talk; but when in essays, they sound too elementary and make admission officers think of your poor vocabulary. Do your best to master paraphrasing and synonymization for writing more sophisticated words in academic papers.

12) Slang, jargon, teen speak

Remember the audience. Even though admission officers might read Buzzfeed articles in spare time, they will hardly appreciate such writing style in your formal essay. Leave slang where it’s appropriate.

13) Rhetorical questions

Asking them, you assume that readers know the answer. But why then do they need this information? What’s its value? Rhetorical questions don’t expect explanations, which is inappropriate for academic writing. What seems evident to you might not be so for a reader, that is why you should provide clear statements in essays.

14-17) “ In terms of ,” “ needless to say ,” “ in conclusion ,” “ it goes without saying “

Parenthetic words bring no surplus value to your writings. They may serve as transitional phrases in informal works but become redundant when used in academic essays. Professors will consider it a trick to complete a word count rather than add value to your work.

Quoting and referencing are a must-have for academic essays, but this rule is about starting your work with a quote from a famous person. First, this trick is so overused that drives professors nuts; and second, they want to hear from you, not Hemingway, Musk, or Obama. It’s your essay, so its tone of voice and personality should be yours.

19-26) “ Very ,” “ quite ,” “ really ,” “ totally ,” “ already ,” “ fairly ,” “ actually ,” “ just “

All they are weak modifiers or redundant – ly adverbs with no meaning. When you need to write a 2,000-word essay, you might fight against the temptation to insert them; but the result will be poor because such words are irrelevant and bring no surplus value to the statements you use in essays. “ Very unique ,” “ really interesting ,” and “ quite enough ” have nothing to do with efficient academic writings.

27) Passive voice

Most educators ask students to avoid passive voice because this grammar construction 1) weakens wiring and 2) “ lacks explicit reference to who the actor is .” Use active voice to make all statements clear to readers.

When writing essays, let words be your allies. Use those powerful words to communicate your message to admission officers and overtake other students. Be concise, enhance your vocabulary, consider active verbs and clear sentence structure, and do not plagiarize ideas and texts from peers or online sources. Convey your skills and highlight strengths in your academic writings.

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 Category: College Essay      Tags: college admission , College Essay , Essay , Guest Blog , Guest Post , Lesley Vos

28 Comments on “ 20+ Words to Avoid Writing in Your Essay ”

When I ask my teacher to help me do my essay online he didn’t mention any of this words, is it so necessary to avoid this words? My mark for the essay will be lower if it contain some of this words? Thanks for the advice, bests Karl

It really all depends on the professors giving you the grades. However, many professors will probably advise you to avoid these words.

What about literary words? Should i avoid using them in my essay?

Yes, literary words are perfectly fine for informal essays, but when it is time for an academic essay, it is a huge no-no!

Yes, below me give you good examples!:)

I think that literary words are okay to use, just not in a proper essay.

Would these apply to advanced 7th grade?

Can you use words like cool or awesome

No, try to stay professional but still assertive on your points

Ok thank you

ya never use those words

Can i use the word several when im writing my backup information? Im writing a argumentative essay.

Thanks a lot for this information. Now I can make essays much better than before.

How do you write a title in a formal style

How do you write a title in a formal style ?

I disagree with using active voice throughout. If it is an academic essay with the focus on process or event, the active should not be used. Academic language should be impersonal.

Pingback: 27 things to avoid in Essay Writing - English Blog

Are the following considered words when counting words ie. I, the, are, my, this, yes?

So did you use the word “I like” or “I think” on a factual essay? That could really help you structure! \ (‘0’)/

Does this also apply to 5th grade?

you really don’t need to worry about your writing in 5th grade

L you for even reading the article bozo

and also this is called college Counselling so I’m not sure why people are worrying unless there in college

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164 Phrases and words You Should Never Use in an Essay—and the Powerful Alternatives you should

This list of words you should never use in an essay will help you write compelling, succinct, and effective essays that impress your professor.

Words and phrases you shouldn't use in an essay

Writing an essay can be a time-consuming and laborious process that seems to take forever.

But how often do you put your all into your paper only to achieve a lame grade?

You may be left scratching your head, wondering where it all went wrong.

Chances are, like many students, you were guilty of using words that completely undermined your credibility and the effectiveness of your argument.

Our professional essay editors have seen it time and time again: The use of commonplace, seemingly innocent, words and phrases that weaken the power of essays and turn the reader off.

But can changing a few words here and there really make the difference to your grades?


If you’re serious about improving your essay scores, you must ensure you make the most of every single word and phrase you use in your paper and avoid any that rob your essay of its power (check out our guide to editing an essay for more details).

Here is our list of words and phrases you should ditch together with some alternatives will be so much more impressive.

Vague and Weak Words

What are vague words and phrases.

Ambiguity pun

Vague language consists of words and phrases that aren’t exact or precise. They can be interpreted in multiple ways and, as such, can confuse the reader.

Essays that contain vague language lack substance and are typically devoid of any concrete language. As such, you should keep your eyes peeled for unclear words when proofreading your essay .

Why You Shouldn’t Use VAGUE Words in Essays

Professors detest vagueness.

In addition to being ambiguous, vague words and phrases can render a good piece of research absolutely useless.

Let’s say you have researched the link between drinking soda and obesity. You present the findings of your literature review as follows:

“Existing studies have found that drinking soda leads to weight gain.”

Your professor will ask:

What research specifically? What/who did it involve? Chimpanzees? Children? OAPs? Who conducted the research? What source have you used?

And the pat on the back you deserve for researching the topic will never transpire.

Academic essays should present the facts in a straightforward, unambiguous manner that leaves no doubt in the mind of the reader.

Key takeaway: Be very specific in terms of what happened, when, where, and to whom.

VAGUE Words and Phrases You Shouldn’t Use in an Essay

Flabby words and expressions, what are flabby expressions.

Unnecessary words pun

Flabby expressions and words are wasted phrases. They don’t add any value to your writing but do take up the word count and the reader’s headspace.

Flabby expressions frequently contain clichéd, misused words that don’t communicate anything specific to the reader. For example, if someone asks you how you are feeling and you reply, “I’m fine,” you’re using a flabby expression that leaves the inquirer none the wiser as to how you truly are.

Why Should Flabby Words be Removed from an Essay?

Flabby words are fine in everyday conversation and even blog posts like this.

However, they are enemies of clear and direct essays. They slow down the pace and dilute the argument.

When grading your essay, your professor wants to see the primary information communicated clearly and succinctly.

Removing the examples of flabby words and expressions listed below from your paper will automatically help you to take your essay to a higher level.

Key takeaway: When it comes to essays, brevity is best.

Flabby Words and Expressions You Shouldn’t Use in an Essay

Words to avoid in an essay: redundant words, what are redundant words.

Redundant words in essays pun

Redundant words and phrases don’t serve any purpose.

In this context, redundant means unnecessary.

Many everyday phrases contain redundant vocabulary; for example, add up, as a matter of fact, current trend, etc.

We have become so accustomed to using them in everyday speech that we don’t stop to question their place in formal writing.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Redundant Words in Essays

Redundant words suck the life out of your essay.

They can be great for adding emphasis in a conversational blog article like this, but there is no place for them in formal academic writing.

Redundant words should be avoided for three main reasons:

The most effective essays are those that are concise, meaningful, and astute. If you use words and phrases that carry no meaning, you’ll lose the reader and undermine your credibility.

Key takeaway: Remove any words that don’t serve a purpose.

Redundant Words and Phrases You Shouldn’t Use in an Essay

Colloquial expressions and grammar expletives, what are colloquial expressions.

Colloquial play on words

A colloquial expression is best described as a phrase that replicates the way one would speak.

The use of colloquial language represents an informal, slang style of English that is not suitable for formal and academic documents.

For example:

Colloquial language: “The findings of the study appear to be above board.”

Suitable academic alternative: “The findings of the study are legitimate.”

What are Grammar Expletives?

Grammar expletives are sentences that start with  here ,  there,  or  it .

We frequently use constructions like these when communicating in both spoken and written language.

But did you know they have a distinct grammatical classification?

They do; the expletive.

Grammar expletives (not to be confused with cuss words) are used to introduce clauses and delay the subject of the sentence. However, unlike verbs and nouns, which play a specific role in expression, expletives do not add any tangible meaning. Rather, they act as filler words that enable the writer to shift the emphasis of the argument. As such, grammar expletives are frequently referred to as “empty words.”

Removing them from your writing can help to make it tighter and more succinct. For example:

Sentence with expletive there : There are numerous reasons why it was important to write this essay. Sentence without expletive: It was important to write this essay for numerous reasons.

Why Should Colloquial Expressions and Grammar Expletives be Removed from an Essay?

While colloquial expressions and grammar expletives are commonplace in everyday speech and are completely acceptable in informal emails and chatroom exchanges, they can significantly reduce the quality of formal essays.

Essays and other academic papers represent formal documents. Frequent use of slang and colloquial expressions will undermine your credibility, make your writing unclear, and confuse the reader. In addition, they do not provide the exactness required in an academic setting.

Make sure you screen your essay for any type of conversational language; for example, figures of speech, idioms, and clichés.

Key takeaway: Grammar expletives use unnecessary words and make your word count higher while making your prose weaker.

Words and Phrases You Shouldn’t Use in an Essay

Nominalization, what is normalization.

Normalization: Do alligators alligate?

A normalized sentence is one that is structured such that the abstract nouns do the talking.

For example, a noun, such as solution , can be structured to exploit its hidden verb, solve .

The act of transforming a word from a verb into a noun is known as normalization.

Should normalization be Removed from an Essay?

This is no universal agreement as to whether normalization should be removed from an essay. Some scholars argue that normalization is important in scientific and technical writing because abstract prose is more objective. Others highlight how normalizations can make essays more difficult to understand .

The truth is this: In the majority of essays, it isn’t possible to present an entirely objective communication; an element of persuasion is inherently incorporated. Furthermore, even the most objective academic paper will be devoid of meaning unless your professor can read it and make sense of it. As such, readability is more important than normalization.

You will need to take a pragmatic approach, but most of the time, your writing will be clearer and more direct if you rely on verbs as opposed to abstract nouns that were formed from verbs. As such, where possible, you should revise your sentences to make the verbs do the majority of the work.

For example,

Use: “This essay analyses and solves the pollution problem.”

Not: “This essay presents an evaluation of the pollution issue and presents a solution.”

While normalized sentences are grammatically sound, they can be vague.

In addition, humans tend to prefer vivid descriptions, and verbs are more vivid, informative, and powerful than nouns.

Key takeaway: Normalization can serve a purpose, but only use it if that purpose is clear.

normalization You Shouldn’t Use in an Essay

That’s a lot to take in.

You may be wondering why care?

Cutting the fat helps you present more ideas and a deeper analysis.

Don’t be tempted to write an essay that is stuffed with pompous, complex language: It is possible to be smart and simple.

Bookmark this list now and return to it when you are editing your essays. Keep an eye out for the words you shouldn’t use in an essay, and you’ll write academic papers that are more concise, powerful, and readable.

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33 Words not to use in your Essay

Words not to use in your Essay

There are many types of words not to use in an essay. Today I want to talk to you about just three types. I’ll also provide you with 33 examples of words not to use in your essay to give you an idea of the sorts of words to look out for.

I’ll break these 33 words up into three sets:

Set 1: Exaggerated Words not to use in an Essay

Set 2: assertive words not to use in an essay, set 3: emotional words not to use in an essay.

One major place where many students fall down is that they don’t realize that the ideal essay writing format is very different from other writing styles. If you’re writing like a journalist, blogger, or fiction writer, you’re probably losing yourself marks.

Students keep trying to write essays that excite, engage, and dazzle their marker through exquisitely crafted prose.

That won’t work.

Your marker doesn’t want to be excited or dazzled through Shakespearian verse.

In fact, your marker likely isn’t even reading most of your essay the way you think.

They’re not sitting down with a nice cup of tea for an afternoon of entertainment. Essay marking is serious business. Your marker has a stack of 20, 50, or even 100 assignments to mark over the space of two weekends – weekends when they’d much rather be skiing (trust me, I know this all too well).

Your marker is therefore trying to assess how well you know the information, and whether you’ve presented it in a critical, insightful, and balanced way.

They’re scanning through your work as fast as they can, and those superb adjectives you ummed and ahhhed over for hours are probably irritating the heck out of your frazzled marker .

How Would you Describe your Essay? Focus on being ‘critical’, ‘insightful’, and ‘balanced’. Do not make the mistake of trying to be ‘engaging’, ‘exciting’, and ‘entertaining’.

In fact, the more you try to excite or sell a position to your marker through superlative language, the more they’ll roll their eyes.

Your marker is going to make a decision in about the first 3 minutes of their marking what grade they’ll give you. The language you use in the first few paragraphs matters. A lot.

Your marker is going to want to know, in as short a time as possible:

With this in mind, you’re going to want to start removing some of those superlative essay words that you’re accustomed to using in your nightly diary.

Here are thirty-three words to stop using. Immediately.

Exaggerated words are words not to use in your essay. Exaggerated language makes you sound like you’re selling your teacher a shoddy used car.

In academia we call these exaggerated words ‘Boosters’, and research shows students who use them too much tend to have lower grades.

Instead, you want to look like you’re very soberly stated the cases for and against a particular point. That same research study noted above highlighted that sober analysis tends to get higher grades.

Therefore, try not to provide the impression that you’ve exaggerated.

One of the biggest mistakes students make when writing an essay is overstating their claims. Students think their goal is to present a powerful exposition that will overwhelmingly convince their marker of one fact or another.

In reality, a truly critical thinker – even in an argumentative or critical essay is critical of both themselves and others.

Therefore, they don’t overstate one side of any argument. Even when they come to a conclusion at the end of their piece, it’s after picking apart the flaws and problems with all sides of an argument.

With this in mind, you don’t want to come across as a snake oil salesman. Here are some over-the-top words you might want to leave out of your next essay:

Similarly, try not to use the most dramatic statistics that don’t seem to pass the common-sense test. If you do identify an overwhelmingly powerful statistic, search for one that seems more grounded or understated.

You can present a seemingly over-the-top statistic alongside a less overwhelming statistic to show that there is disagreement within a topic. Even if both statistics seem to support a statement, present them side-by-side to show how even people who agree on big-picture issues disagree on some of the minor points.

Showing the small differences between different scholarly sources you have read is one of the best ways to show that you have come up with deep, thoughtful, and insightful ‘critical commentary’ about a topic. It also shows that you haven’t gotten carried away believing something wholeheartedly in a way that appears thoughtless.

Read Also: 13+ Examples Of The Word “Academic” In A Sentence

We don’t completely, unequivocally, and unrefutably know anything. Therefore, nothing is ever ‘confirmed’.

Even the ‘Theory’ of gravity is just a theory – and indeed, it’s changed and been updated many, many times since Isaac Newton got hit on the head by that apple.

Indeed, the idea that we never really know something to be completely true forms the basis of university thought. It dates way back to scholars such as Nicolaus Copernicus who, in 1514, proposed that the sun revolved around the earth.

Back then, this was a preposterous assertion! Everyone knew , was absolutely certain , that the earth was the center of the universe. The sun woke up in the morning and went to bed at night – that’s the way the world was.

However, by making observations of the positions of the stars at night, Copernicus showed us that we could observe that it was not the sun that was moving through space – it was us!

Copernicus showed us that we had to let our observations shape our beliefs. Thinking something is true – no matter how much it seems to be! – is not enough. We should always leave our minds open to new ideas.

Copernicus’s contemporary, Francis Bacon, called this new way of thinking skepticism . 

Nowadays, students are taught to always be skeptical. We, therefore, aim not to use words that leave no room for new data to emerge to change our minds.

Take a look at some words that are overly certain, and consider replacing them with more skeptical terms:

Emotional language is a sign of lack of critical thinking. Emotional words are therefore a big fat red flag for your teacher. You want to make it appear as if you have come to your position in an essay through the use of objective and thoughtful research.

This is very hard when an issue is inherently emotive. I used to teach a course on Child Protection. In this course I found it very difficult to get my students to stop using language like ‘disgusting’, ‘abhorrent’, and ‘repulsive’ to describe abusive behavior towards children.

“Look,” I would tell them, “I know that abusive behavior is disgusting – we all in this room agree on that. But you need to be a professional, objective juror. Explain to me the effects of child abuse through facts and research. Show facts, not feelings. In your essay, keep your emotional language out of it.”

Simply speaking, emotional language makes it appear to your marker that you are susceptible to researcher bias. A more sober analysis will be more much convincing.

Here are some words to avoid at all costs:

You might notice I didn’t provide you with possible alternative words in the table above. The reason is simple: remove superlative adjectives and adverbs, and don’t replace them with anything.

Many of my students complain that I’m asking them to be boring . It’s true, to an extent. In essay writing (unlike journalistic or blog writing), you need to take your ‘voice’ out of the writing.

You need to let the way you sorted and presented the data do the talking for you. For some tips on this, you might want to have a look at our post on paragraphs where we outline the ideal paragraph formula to achieve the best results in your essays.

33 essay words to avoid e1555339585739

In this post, I have outlined three types of words to avoid in essays , with examples. I have highlighted that you should avoid these three types of words:

Three types of Words to Avoid

The above 33 examples are just a start: keep your mind active when editing your work and try to pick out these three types of words.

Essay writing is supposed to be succinct, clear, and to-the-point. It should be analytical and critical. However, it should do this calmly and professionally. By exaggeration, being emotional, and being assertive, you are doing yourself a disservice.

(You might also want to brush up on tautologies so you avoid using them in essays, too!)

By paying attention to your word choice, you can start to build your marks. Sometimes it’s more important to focus on words to avoid than words to include.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

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Words and Phrases to Avoid in Academic Writing

Published on February 6, 2016 by Sarah Vinz . Revised on October 24, 2022.

When you are writing a dissertation , thesis, or research paper, many words and phrases that are acceptable in conversations or informal writing are considered inappropriate in academic writing .

You should try to avoid expressions that are too informal, unsophisticated, vague, exaggerated, or subjective, as well as those that are generally unnecessary or incorrect.

Bear in mind, however, that these guidelines do not apply to text you are directly quoting from your sources (including interviews ).

Table of contents

Too informal, too exaggerated, too subjective, generally incorrect.

Academic writing is generally more formal than the writing we see in non-academic materials (including on websites). It is also more formal than the ways in which we normally speak. The following words and phrases are considered too informal for a dissertation or academic paper.

Informal sentence starts

Some words are acceptable in certain contexts, but become too informal when used at the beginning of a sentence. You can replace these with appropriate  transition words  or simply remove them from the sentence.

Using vague terms makes your writing imprecise and may cause people to interpret it in different ways. Always try to be as specific as possible.

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Academic writing is usually unadorned and direct. Some adverbs of frequency (such as always and never ) and intensifiers (words that create emphasis, such as really ) are often too dramatic. They may also not be accurate – you’re making a significant claim when you say something is perfect or never happens.

These terms do sometimes add value, but try to use them sparingly.

Some words and phrases reveal your own bias. For instance, if you state that something will obviously happen, you are indicating that you think the occurrence is obvious – not stating a fact.

Expressing your opinion is appropriate in certain sections of a dissertation and in particular types of academic texts (such as personal statements and reflective or argumentative essays ). In most cases, though, take care when using words and phrases such as those below – try to let the facts speak for themselves, or emphasize your point with less biased language.

Certain words and phrases are often used incorrectly, even by native speakers of a language. If you’re exposed to such mistakes often enough, you may start to assume they are correct – but it’s important that you don’t let them creep into your writing.

You should also bear in mind that some of these mistakes relate to things we all frequently mishear (for instance, we often think the speaker is saying would of instead of would have ).

In general, you should also try to avoid using words and phrases that fall into the following categories:

Reflective reports and  personal statements  sometimes have a less formal tone. In these types of writing, you may not have to follow these guidelines as strictly. The preface or acknowledgements of a dissertation also often have a less formal and more personal voice than the rest of the document.

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List of 125 Words and Phrases You Should Never Use in an Essay

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Words to Avoid in Essay for Effective Writing

Table of contents.

Essays require a lot of thought and are a great way to have a voice in whatever you are discussing. However, a word or phrase can make or break an essay.

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This article provides a guide on words not to use in an essay . Avoiding these words will make all the difference.

An essay is a specific kind of academic writing that must demonstrate the ability to express ideas clearly and efficiently (and convincingly). An effective way to demonstrate critical thinking and knowledge is by using appropriate words.

When you’re writing an essay, you should avoid using words that make your writing unclear and less effective. It is essential to use appropriate words in your article, as a sloppy or poorly written piece may confuse or annoy readers.

Avoid these words and phrases in your essays for concise and meaningful writing.

1. Contractions

Contractions are typically used to shorten words. Not writing in contractions can be difficult at first because your writing may sound too formal. However, this is a good thing because your essay will have a polished look and be taken more seriously by your reader.

Using total words instead of contractions also shows that you are a more advanced writer. Words like ‘ don’t, shouldn’t, isn’t ‘ should be wholly avoided in your essay.

Idioms are words that have specific meanings and are typical in informal writings. These words are not suitable for essays as they might confuse people who aren’t familiar with their meanings.

Phrases like ‘ Get a taste of your own medicine’ might not make sense to some readers. You might want to choose words that are easy to understand.

3. Rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions are without grammatical or structural significance and are often used for conversational purposes.

When used in essay writing, they make your paper seem immature, disorganized, and unprofessional. Questions like ‘ do we want our planet to survive ‘ don’t require a logical answer. It is best to avoid them.

4. Passive Voice

Passive voices do not explicitly identify who the actor in a sentence is. It is best to avoid them in your essay as they seem less professional. Instead, use an active voice to make your points and make a clear connection with your audience.

5. Unnecessary Words

You must keep a consistent tone and use concise and appropriate words when you write an essay. If your comments start to become repetitive and the reader has to read through multiple passages repeatedly, you may want to revise the essay.

Avoid using words that add no meaning to your writing. Unnecessary words and phrases tend to make your essay sound inauthentic and fake, which could be the first shot at turning away readers. For example:

Instead of : This research serves to explain

Use : This research explains

6.Too Subjective Words

You might want to give your opinion about a specific subject, which is great in certain types of essays (such as personal statements). In other cases, describing the information in a way that seems more subjective than objective should be avoided.

Using words like “ I think ” and “ I believe ” would seem like you are trying to claim the scope of the argument. In most cases, it is better to use words like “ It seems ,” or “ It is reasonable to believe “.

Clichés are tedious and overused words. It can be a pain to read someone else’s writing filled with clichés. Avoiding these words in your essay will increase your chances of impressing your readers and improving your grade. Furthermore, clichéd phrases can quickly break the flow of your essay and make it seem as if you are falling back on old grounds.

8. Slang and Jargon

Slangs and jargon are among the top words you should avoid in any writing project.

They often confuse and alter the context of your statement and appear silly and unprofessional. Focus on phrases that serve the purpose of your writing without affecting its tone and progression.

9. Too Exaggerated Words

Avoid using words that are too exaggerated so as not to sound overbearing. It would be best to avoid words like “ sure ,” “ absolutely ,” “ obviously ,” “of course,” “absolutely,” “perfectly,” or adjectives like “brilliant,” “wonderful,” and “terrific.” These words are used for emphasis but are often dramatic. They will indeed sound out of place in your essay.

10. Too Sophisticated

It is essential to avoid using excessively sophisticated words that may come across as a certain level of “sophistication” to the reader. Words like “annihilating,” “blitzkrieg,” “dead space,” “prophetically,” and “silent maestro,” which are too over the top, should be avoided.

Stick to words that are simple and precise. The words you choose can contribute to how your essay is received.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug

Remember that your essay is not just a piece of writing, but it also serves as an example to the reader. Be conscious of the tone. Language choices can be significant, so don’t be too informal, serious, or ambiguous .

Keep the tone of your essay appropriate. The use of vocabulary can be a good test for a high-quality composition. This article should guide you on the words not to use in an essay .

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Words to Avoid in Essay for Effective Writing

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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Words and Phrases to Avoid in your College Essays

When it comes to college essays, sometimes the words you choose not to write make just as much of an impact as the words you do choose to write.

Readers get bored with seeing the same old clichés and run-on expressions over and over again. And adding in fluffy language or confusing idioms can leave them feeling lost in your words.

You want your college essay to stand out for all of the right reasons. Avoiding certain words and phrases help make your writing more concise and purposeful.

So how do you know exactly which words and phrases you should avoid in your writing assignments?

To start, you can seek inspiration from college essays that worked for other students. But ultimately it's nice to have a list of what not to do to help you avoid potential mistakes along the way.

What you Should Avoid

1. contractions.

Contractions may seem informal or lazy to the reader. Take the time to write the full phrase out.

NO: It's been a journey.

YES: It has been a journey.

Idioms can be confusing and are often overused. Clearly state what you mean in your own words.

NO: I thought the fancy-looking house was going to be awesome, but all that glitters is not gold .

YES: Even though I thought the new house was going to be incredible with its fancy appliances and enormous windows, I was proven wrong as the appliances all broke within the first week and the windows all leaked.

Also, phrases that introduce idioms are overused. Avoid using phrases like: You know what they say ... But we all know ... As we've heard over and over again ...

Clichés are so... cliché. Everyone is using them, and the words have lost their power. Choose specific and illustrative examples to use so your essay isn't lumped into a pile with all the essays that use worn-out clichés.

NO: I knew I had to give 110% if I was going to win the race.

YES: I knew I needed to train harder than I ever had before—before school, after school, every weekend—if I was going to win the race.

Phrases like “ Every cloud has a silver lining ” and “ Better late than never ” have no place in a creative and original college essay. This is your chance to paint a complete picture of yourself and your personality. Use descriptive language to let the reader hear your voice in your writing instead of an overused, out-of-date expression.

4. Slang and Abbreviations

I hope u r 2 smart to write something like this in a college essay. Abbreviations are not at all acceptable in formal writing such as a college essay.

Also, slang needs to be avoided. Use common language that people of all ages will understand. Remember your audience; you're writing for your professor, not your friends. And tone should reflect that.

NO: The party was lit , and everything was Gucci .

YES: The party was lively, the music was loud and fun, and everyone was having an amazing night.

5. Vague or Elementary Words

Use words that show you're capable of a deeper, more thorough understanding of topics. Avoid words that are vague or simple when there is a better way to demonstrate your meaning.

NO: The thing I read showed that the environment is bad .

YES: The article I studied concluded that the environment had been devastated by the recent occurrences of hurricanes and flooding.

If you find yourself using words like thing, stuff, bad, good, shows, and gives , challenge yourself to replace these words with stronger, more descriptive language.

6. Run-On Expressions

A run-on expression is a phrase, usually at the end of a list, that indicates you could add more examples ( and so on, and so forth, etc. ).

Avoiding filler words and run-on expressions will make your college essay more clear and interesting to the reader.

If something needs to be added to your list of examples, add specific examples. Don't add expressions such as etc. and and so on . These are vague and add nothing of substance to your essay.

NO: I love many sports: basketball, baseball, etc.

YES: I love many sports: basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, and lacrosse.

7. Filler Words or Weak Modifiers

Increasing your word count by adding filler words will make your essay actually, very, very, very weak.

If you can get rid of a word and it makes no difference to your writing, get rid of it. Or better yet, rephrase it to demonstrate what you truly are trying to convey.

NO: I totally believe that we should actually make the laws much, much more strict very soon.

YES: I believe we should urgently make the laws more strict.

8. Exaggerated Words

Not everything you write about needs to be about the best or the worst . When you exaggerate in writing, it can come off as being insincere. Words like always and perfect also fall into this category.

NO: My team was the best team ever because we always played well and our shots were always perfect .

YES: My team was gifted at the game and played well. We could make some amazing shots.

9. Unnecessary Words

Sometimes writers don't even realize they are adding words that aren't needed. Compare these two examples:

NO: She has got four little puppies.

YES: She has four little puppies.

NO: This lotion helps to smooth the skin.

YES: This lotion helps smooth the skin.

Eliminating unnecessary words makes writing more clear and coherent. This is also an easy way to cut down when you're trying meet a word count requirement .

10. Grammatical Errors, Fragments, and Run-on Sentences

When your college essay draft is complete, make sure to proofread it thoroughly. And have a teacher or talented writer proof it again for you.

Avoid any spelling and grammatical errors, but also avoid fragments and run-on sentences. When it doubt, use an online sentence fragment checker or a grammar checker such as Grammarly to triple-check your work.

Once your draft is complete, make sure you have an excellent proofreader look over your essay for errors.

When writing, choose your words carefully. Pick the words that will make the greatest impact on your message and keep the reader's attention. Avoid the words and phrases that will make your essay weak and boring.

With careful consideration of your word choices, your essays will stand out for all of the right reasons. You'll be submitting advanced writing assignments that will help you ace your coursework!

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8 Types of Words Not to Use in an Essay (And Why You Shouldn’t)

antony w

by  Antony W

October 6, 2021

words not to use in an essay

Academic writing is different from creative writing mostly because it’s formal. And although creativity is welcome in essay assignments, there are words and phrases that can cost you important marks if you use them in college assignments.

We know how hard writing essays can be, especially because you don’t have the opportunity to implement the elements of creative writing. Plus, it’s time and energy consuming because you have to do a lot of research, write a working thesis , build an outline, defend arguments , and have an impressive paper at the end of it all. 

As challenging as essay writing can be, it’s not impossible. You can take your research and put it on the paper before the deadline elapse. However, the words you use to write is what will count towards enticing (convincing) your readers or boring them altogether. 

To be clear, not words are useful in essay writing. While you can use idioms and self-made sayings and quotes in creative writing, essay writing requires a 100% forma approach. That’s why it’s important to avoid these words if you want your essays to read well.

Word to Avoid in Essay Writing  

1. contractions  .

By definition, contractions are a combination of words linked together with apostrophes. Since they shorten words, contractions tend to lower the number of words in written and spoken communication. As interesting as contractions sound when read verbally, they hardly have a place in formal academic writing. You can use them in college application essays to personalize your application, but they won’t be appropriate for other types of formal essays or research assignments.

Words such as “can’t” and “mustn’t” should not appear in your academic paper, even in the case where you have to write a persuasive essay in your own voice. You should write the words in full instead.

2. Personal Pronouns 

Personal pronouns are okay for college admissions essays, persuasive essay writing, and opinion essays but bad for everything else in academic writing.

Take argumentative essay writing , for example. A writer must academically reflect on arguments that correspond with their opinions and be 100% free from personal feelings. Given that they have to speak facts, which are practically difficult to explain in first person pronouns, you should avoid using words such as “I” and “We” in the essay.

To be clear, academic essays must never sound subjective. An essay that sounds subjective tends to be full of bias and sounds more like a narrative paper. As such you should avoid using personal pronouns in an essay unless otherwise instructed to do so.

3. Rhetorical Questions 

People read academic essays because they’re looking for answers to the questions that they have. So asking questions is an essay makes your writing irrelevant to a great degree.

Here’s why: 

Every time you ask a rhetorical question in an essay , you shift the burden to answer from the writer (you) to the reader (your audience). Unfortunately, the question itself doesn’t add value because they don’t provide any clue, information, or explanation. Not to mention that they’re so much irritating that they tend to easily draw attention away from the essay.

Keep in mind that what might seem obvious to you won’t be so for someone reading your essay. So instead of filling your writing with questions that will otherwise disinterest your audience, use rhetorical statements.


There’s nothing wrong with starting an essay with a quote provided it’s relevant to the issue under investigation. To make sure your readers understand the quotation, you have to explain what the quote means and its significance in the essay.

You can also end an essay with a quote provided it’s relevant to the topic.

The problem comes in when you don’t know exactly how to use quotes in the essay.

From an academic writing standpoint, you should never include a quote that you’ve made up yourself. If you must include a quote in your work, make sure it’s from a well-known author whose work is academic worthy. 

Second, don’t just copy the quotation to your writing. Explain what it is about and demonstrate how it’s significant to the topic you’re investigating. Also, you have to reference the quote so that your professor knows where you found it.

While the idea of using quotes in your work may seem Interesting, it’s best to avoid them entirely. Unless you strongly believe there’s a need to include a quote from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Hemingway, or Obama in your work, stick to a tone that presents your personality and thoughts.

5. Passive Voice 

You should not use passive voice in an essay for the simple reason that it weakens your writing. Given its kind of grammar construction, passive voice lacks reference to who the subject (or actor) is and can make your content difficult to consume.

Use active voice in essay writing. It will make your statements clear to your reader and therefore make your paper easy and interesting to read. 

6. Vague Words 

How often do you mention words such as bad, good, thing, stuff, and big? We believe these are words you use in every day talk. However, they’re not appropriate for essay writing because they tend to make your work sound vague and elementary.

Once you finish writing your essay, re-read it, highlight the most all the inappropriate words or phrases, and then replace them with synonyms and phrases accepted in academic writing.

7. Slang 

We can’t deny that jargon, teen speak, and slang have taken root in the society. However, Buzzfeed’s style of writing isn’t something your teachers will appreciate. You need to train yourself to write and speak in a formal language, for the sake of your essay assignment at least. Leave slang to where it belongs and stick to formal writing instead.

8. Idioms 

Aren’t idioms good for enriching written works? Well, they’re but are too informal to be appropriate in academic writing. Remember, academic writing must be formal. Any idiom you include in the article breaks that rule and ruins your chances of scoring good grades.

Author Image

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

Words to Avoid in Academic Writing: Basic Rules

by Will Martins / Updated January 31, 2022

The educational process at a college or university is associated with writing assignments of varying complexity. Every student will have to face difficulties or tricky papers. But don't worry, because your goal is to gain new knowledge. But what about paper details? Do beginners need to know any nuances in advance? Here are things to avoid in academic writing that you should be aware of.


Imagine having to write essays, research papers, and book reviews every week. Such an intense schedule is very difficult for a beginner. The fact is that many first-year students make typical mistakes, forget about formatting, and use unwanted words or slang. All of these factors directly affect grades. So this is why you should be aware of words and phrases to avoid in academic writing. Luckily, you don't have to waste time looking. We have collected all the words and clichés that you should not use if you want to get an A+.

Avoid These Words in Your Academic Writing

The main problem for beginners is ignoring the basic rules. Informal communication and assignments are very different. That is why this list of words to avoid in academic writing comes in handy. Take a look at the sections and remember the general rules that you should follow. New experiences will have a positive impact on your grades.

Too Informal

You cannot use informal writing techniques in college or university. This format is suitable for everyday communication with friends, blocks, or articles on sites. Here are weak words to avoid in academic writing that you should remember.

Thanks to these examples, you can understand that informal taboo words in academic writing are unacceptable. Try to control every sentence and phrase. Then you can be successful.

Too Primitive

In some cases, simple terms are appropriate. However, first-year students often strive to simplify sentences, which indicates a limited vocabulary and an inability to express thoughts in a more voluminous and comprehensive manner. It would help if you didn't forget about words not to use in a research paper. Then you won't have a problem.

Remember these primitive words to avoid in academic writing. You should polish your paragraphs like the sword of a medieval soldier. Correcting phrases and sentences are the keys to high grades.

If you use vague language, your thoughts will not always be clear. That is why you should only choose good words to use in an essay or any other paper. Try to convert your thoughts into paragraphs without losing quality.

A long time

Any formal essay will be much better if you try to avoid vague language and be as transparent as possible in your wording. Then your professor will be pleased with your efforts.

Too Exaggerated

Any exaggerated suggestions look ridiculous, especially if your topic is about social science, mathematics, physics, and other disciplines. There is always an alternative that is more acceptable in a given situation. Here are three main words not to use in an essay. Remember this list.

Best, Worst, Perfect

Now you know how important it is to avoid forbidden words in writing. One incorrect wording can affect the overall impression of the entire paragraph. Try not to make these mistakes or spend more time reading each sentence.

Too Subjective

Want to know what not to use in academic writing? Avoid subjective statements. You'd better be specific about what you want to convey to your audience (professor). Be correct in your wording, and you will succeed.

Wonderful, Good

Of Course, Obviously

As you can see, one word can change an entire sentence and even affect a paragraph. So try not to be too subjective and use clear wording. This advice is extremely simple but effective.

Generally Unnecessary

Brevity is the soul of wit. So this is why you can cut out unnecessary words like a highly trained surgeon. Don't be afraid to spend an extra 15 minutes polishing every sentence. As a result, you will be very happy with the outcome. Take a look at some examples.

Have/Has Got

Helps To/Serves To

Just a couple of changes and every suggestion you make will be improved. Then, all you need is a little patience until you can automatically write correctly. This way, you no longer need to spend time learning the basics.

Generally Incorrect

Here's another reason why you should improve your college essay vocabulary. There are many cases when even native speakers write sentences incorrectly. Imagine the confusion overwhelming international students when they read samples on the Internet. Here's what you should pay attention to first.

Had Of, Would Of

Now you know more words to avoid in an essay. Spend at least a couple of days improving your vocabulary, and you'll be amazed at how easy you can write sentences. All you need is a little patience.

Other Words to Avoid

Sometimes your topic may be about certain technical parameters or research aspects. In this case, you'd better avoid words like deconflicting, especially if you don't provide any explanations. There are many alternative ways to describe a process or situation.


Every cliché is a step backward for a good student. Surely your professor will understand what you mean. But why use clichés like "thinking outside the box?" Here are some examples you shouldn't use.

As a rule, all such clichés are inappropriate in most essays. Instead, try to find alternatives or describe certain situations directly. Then you will not have problems with conveying information to your audience (professor).

Should you include slang like cool or dope in some sentences? Such words do not belong in your assignment! Instead, choose more correct options for expressing emotions if necessary.


Abbreviations are appropriate if they abbreviate the name of an educational institution, company, or technology. If you use options like TV, fridge, or photo in your assignment, you should forget about high grades.

The Gender-Biased Language

You will be surprised, but there are quite a few gender-biased words that can significantly influence your grades. Here is just a small list of things you should know about. Of course, most professors won't be happy if they see you use it stereotypically.

As you can see, the alternatives are equally informative but avoid bias or over-emphasis on gender. Try to stick to the correct wording so that every proposal you make is perfect. Just a couple of weeks, and you should be able to learn most of the correct word variations.

When Taboo Words Can be Used in Academic Writing

Sometimes your professor may allow you to use a less formal tone. As a rule, students do not have hard restrictions regarding reflective reports and personal statements. In this case, you are not limited by any aspects other than common sense. All you need is the ability to express your thoughts. Even if you use "Literally," "Naturally," "A long time," or other words from the list, then your professor is unlikely to mind. However, jargon is still unacceptable, so you shouldn't forget about words to avoid in essays. Be careful, and you can expect high grades.

Now you know how to write each sentence correctly and avoid most of the pitfalls. Your assignment should be as perfect as a calm water surface. It will be tough at first, especially if you are not a native speaker. However, after a couple of weeks of practice, you will be able to comply with all the rules and regulations. But what if you are still making mistakes? Are you ready to put up with low grades? Perhaps now is the perfect time to find the best essay writing services and delegate the papers. Then you will have more time to practice.

What should be avoided when writing an academic essay?

Try to avoid vague thesis statements, clichés, and slang that can make your sentences incorrect. Also, it would help if you forgot about long and confusing sentences.

What should be avoided in academic writing?

Forget about first-person pronouns or addressing readers as "you." Also, you shouldn't use abbreviated versions of words, waffling, and slang expressions.

Can you use contractions in college essays?

As a general rule, you would be better off checking this with your professor. The point is that in some cases, students may use contractions in essays and some other papers.

Can you use etc. in an essay?

Most colleges and universities allow the use of "etc." at the end of a list. However, if you do not use this word too often, your professor will not have any questions.

Should you use "we" in an essay?

It would help if you did not use "we" or "us," as these words are nothing more than a way to include the reader in the essay. Try to avoid these words or find alternatives. Then you don't have to put up with low grades.



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    So, one maxim of essay writing is: don't ask: tell. 1st Person Singular. Some say not to use the word I in an essay. Others say it is fine. If you do use it