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?

Absolutely.

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

Word/Phrase to Avoid in an Essay Much Better Alternative(s)
About/around Approximately, in combination with a range.
Use: “The event was attended by approximately 80-100 people.”
Not: “The event was attended by about 100 people.”
Almost Provide very specific detail in your essay.
Use: “When the clinical trials were complete.”
Not: “When the research was almost complete.”
Area State which area specifically.
Use: “There was a significant amount of flooding in the north of Miami.”
Not: “There was a significant amount of flooding in the area.”
Big/small/short/tall Use more specific adjectives to describe the person, place, or thing.
Use: “The elephant weighed 18,000 pounds and was 13-foot tall.”
Not: “The elephant was big and tall.”
Kind of Delete.
Use: “The interesting thing about the character was…”
Not: “The character was kind of interesting because…”
Meaningful Use: “The results add value to the existing body of knowledge on obesity among youths because…”
Not: “The results were meaningful because…”
More or less Replace with something more precise:
Use: “The character’s quest was unsuccessful because…”
Not: “The character more or less failed in her quest.”
Other(s) State exactly who.
Use: “These findings were replicated by Ghott et al. (1990).”
Not: “These findings were replicated by other researchers.”
Poor Qualify what you mean by “poor.”
Use: “The essay grade was ten points below a pass.”
Not: “The essay grade was poor.”
Situation Be specific about what situation you are referring to.
Use: “This essay will explain the political events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Not: “This essay will explain the situation that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Something Specifically delineate the “something” you are referring to.
Use: “This finding teaches us that the ideal storage temperature is…”
Not: “This finding teaches us something.”
Sort of Qualify your opinion with more in-depth information.
Use: “The essay was interesting but could be improved by…”
Not: “The essay was sort of interesting.”
Stuff Explain what specifically you are referring to:
Use: “We added the salt powder to the solution.”
Not: “We added the stuff to the solution.”
Thing Replace with something more precise:
Use: “I found this comparison between rich and poor most interesting.”
Not: “This was the thing I found most interesting.”

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

Flabby Word/Phrase to Avoid in an Essay Much Better Alternative(s)
Go on Use: “I will continue to present the final analysis.”
Not: “I will go on to present the final analysis.”
I might add Use: “This research proved…”
Not: “I might add that this research proved…”
In terms of Use: “This essay effectively demonstrated…”
Not: “This essay was effective in terms of…”
In my opinion Use: “Shakespeare was a talented writer.”
Not: “In my opinion, Shakespeare was a talented writer.”
In spite of the fact Use: “Although this paper was written 50 years later, nothing has changed.”
Not: “In spite of the fact this paper was written 50 years later, nothing has changed.”
In the event of/that Use: “If new research emerges, the situation may change.”
Not: “In the event that new research emerges, the situation may change.”
In the process of Use: “I concluded that the hypothesis was incorrect.”
Not: “In the process of writing the essay, I concluded that the hypothesis was incorrect.”
It seems like Use: “Freud probably believed…”
Not: “It seems like Freud was of the opinion…”
They made it to Use: “They reached the United States.”
Not: “They made it to the United States.”
On a regular basis Use: “Kant frequently argued this point.”
Not: “Kant argued this point on a regular basis.”
Pick out Use: “In this paper, I will highlight the most relevant findings of my study.”
Not: “In this paper, I will pick out the most relevant findings of my study.”
Point out Use: “It is important to emphasize the implications of this argument.”
Not: “It is important to point out the implications of this argument.”
The first step is to Use: “Start by describing the research methodology.”
Not: “The first step is to describe the research methodology.”
Take action (to) Use: “It is clear the government must act now to resolve the issues.”
Not: “It is clear the government must take action now to resolve the issues.”
Talk about Use: “In Section 6 of the essay, we will examine the research findings.”
Not: “In Section 6 of the essay, we will talk about the research findings.”
The most important thing is to Use: “Consider the thesis statement…”
Not: “The most important thing is to consider the thesis statement.”
The reason Use: “Jane Eyre cried because…”
Not: “The reason Jane Eyre cried was because…”
This is a Use: “Students frequently fail this exam.”
Not: “This is an exam that students frequently fail.”
Time and time again Use: “This essay has demonstrated…”
Not: “Time and time again, this essay has demonstrated…”
Try to figure out Use: “After reviewing the survey outputs, I will determine…”
Not: “After reviewing the survey outputs, I will try to figure out…”
Very Use: “The argument was fascinating.”
Not: “The argument was very interesting.”
Went back over Use: “I then revaluated the research findings.”
Not: “I then went back over the research findings.”
When it comes to Use: “We must consider the historical context when reviewing George Orwell’s work.”
Not: “When it comes to the work of George Orwell, we must consider the historical context.”
Which is/was Use: “This essay, written over 100 years ago, offers an insight…”
Not: “This essay, which was written over 100 years ago, offers an insight…”
Who is Use: “Kotler, a renowned marketing expert, claims…”
Not: “Kotler, who is a renowned marketing expert, claims…”
Will be different Use: “Every experiment in the study will differ.”
Not: “Every experiment in the study will be different.”
With reference to the thesis statement Use: “The thesis statement asserts…”
Not: “With reference to the thesis statement…”

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:

  • They interrupt the flow of the essay and unnecessarily distract the reader.
  • They can undermine the main point you are trying to make in your paper.
  • They can make you look uneducated.

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

Words and Phrases to Avoid in an Essay Much Better Alternative(s) to Use in Your Essay
Absolutely Use: “The water was freezing.”
Not: “The water was absolutely freezing.”
Actual Use: “The research findings revealed…”
Not: “The actual research findings revealed…”
Add(s) an additional Use: “Adds an element to the analysis.”
Not: “Adds an additional element to the analysis.”
Add up Use: “We will sum the responses.”
Not: “We will add up the responses.”
Alternative choice Use: “Hamlet had no choice but to…”
Not: “Hamlet had no alternative choice but to…”
All throughout Use: “Throughout human history, females have…”
Not: “All throughout human history, females have…”
And etc. Use: “The animals included dogs, cats, birds, etc.”Not: “The animals included dogs, cats, birds, and etc.”
As a matter of fact Use: “The survey findings indicated…”
Not: “As a matter of fact, the survey findings indicated…”
As far as I’m concerned/It is my (personal) opinion Use: “The theme of love overcoming evil is compelling.”
Not: “As far as I am concerned, the theme of love overcoming evil is compelling.”
Ask the question Use: “This prompts me to question the accuracy of the findings.”
Not: “This prompts me to ask the question: ‘Were the findings accurate?’”
Assemble together Use: “We assembled the various parts.”
Not: “We assembled together the various parts.”
At the present time/ At this point in time Use: “We cannot confirm the validity of the findings.”
Not: “At the present time, we cannot confirm the validity of the findings.”
Basic Use: “According to the findings…”
Not: “According to the basic findings…”
Blend together Use: “The elements of the story blend well.”
Not: “The elements of the story blend together well.”
Completely Use: “The Romans were defeated.”
Not: “The Romans were completely defeated.”
Connect together Use: “I will then connect the main aspects of the analysis.”
Not: “I will then connect together the main aspects of the analysis.”
Current trend Use: “Some people argue the trend of using big data to understand customer needs won’t continue.”
Not: “Some people argue the current trend of using big data to understand customer needs won’t continue.”
Careful scrutiny Use: “The findings were scrutinized.”
Not: “The findings underwent careful scrutiny.”
Close proximity Use: “The remains were near the dwelling.”
Not: “The remains were found in close proximity to the dwelling.”
Completely eradicate Use: “To achieve victory, it was necessary to eradicate the enemy.”
Not: “To achieve victory, it was necessary to completely eradicate the enemy.”
Depreciate in value Use: “The organization’s assets depreciated over time.”
Not: “The organization’s assets depreciated in value over time.”
Different kinds Use: “We identified six kinds of bacteria.”
Not: “We identified six different kinds of bacteria.”
Due to Use: “The test failed because the fire was too hot.”
Not: “The test failed due to the fact that the fire was too hot.”
During the course of Use: “During the story…”
Not: “During the course of the story…
Dwindle down Use: “The number of incorrect answers dwindled.”
Not: “The number of incorrect answers dwindled down.”
Each and every Use: “Every scenario was tested.”
Not: “Each and every scenario was tested.”
Equal to one another Use: “They are equal in height, but Sarah is a faster runner.”
Not: “They are equal to one another in height, but Sarah is a faster runner.”
Exact same Use: “The findings were the same.”
Not: “The findings were the exact same.”
End result Use: “The result was the fall of the dictatorship.”
Not: “The end result was that the dictatorship fell.”
Equal to one another Use: “Although the weights of the materials were equal, their performance was not comparable.”
Not: “Although the weights of the materials were equal to one another, their performance was not comparable.”
Every single person Use: “All participants returned the completed survey.”
Not: “Every single person returned the completed survey.”
Evolve over time Use: “It is interesting to observe how the characters evolve.”
Not: “It is interesting to observe how the characters evolve over time.”
Fellow classmate/colleague Use: “I completed the test with a classmate.”
Not: “I completed the test with a fellow classmate.”
Filled to capacity Use: “I continued to add water until the vessel was filled.”
Not: “I continued to add water until the vessel was filled to capacity.”
Final conclusion/outcome/ultimatum Use: “The researcher concluded that the test was reliable.”
Not: “The researchers’ final conclusion was that the test was reliable.”
First and foremost Use: “Shakespeare remains foremost a poet.”
Not: “Shakespeare remains first and foremost a poet.”
First conceived Use: “The idea to test the relationship between speed and weight was conceived when…”
Not: “The idea to test the relationship between speed and weight was first conceived when…”
First of all Use: “First, I was interested in the character’s name.”
Not: “First of all, I was interested in the character’s name.”
Fly through the air Use: “The bird flew rapidly.”
Not: “The bird flew through the air rapidly.”
Foreign imports Use: “The results indicate that imports can be detrimental to the economy.”
Not: “The results indicate that foreign imports can be detrimental to the economy.”
Former graduate/veteran Use: “I am a graduate of HKU.”
Not: “I am a former graduate of HKU.”
Fuse together/join together/merge together/mix together Use: “The research fuses a myriad of experimental techniques.”
Not: “The research fuses together a myriad of experimental techniques.”
Future plans Use: “My plans for the next stage of the research include…”
Not: “My future plans for the next stage of the research include…”
Gather together Use: “Gather your thoughts and develop a new thesis.”
Not: “Gather your thoughts together and develop a new thesis.”
General public Use: “The study sample consisted of 150 members of the public.”
Not: “The study sample consisted of 150 members of the general public.”
Grown in size Use: “The specimen had grown by 5 cm.”
Not: “The specimen had grown in size.”
Heat up Use: “A Bunsen burner was used to heat the solution.”
Not: “A Bunsen burner was used to heat up the solution.”
Hollow tube Use: “The machine parts were connected using a tube.”
Not: “The machine parts were connected using a hollow tube.”
Integrate with each other Use: “It is important that the tools integrate.”
Not: “It is important that the tools integrate with each other.”
In order to Use: “To prove the hypothesis, this essay will…”
Not: “In order to prove the hypothesis, this essay will…”
Introduce the new Use: “This essay will introduce the idea that…”
Not: “This essay will introduce the new idea that…”
Joint collaboration Use: “This paper describes a collaboration between…”
Not: “This paper describes a joint collaboration between…”
Knowledgeable expert Use: “Kotler is an expert in the field of marketing.”
Not: “Kotler is a knowledgeable expert in the field of marketing.”
Later time/date Use: “This idea will be explored in more depth later.”
Not: “This idea will be explored in more depth at a later time.”
Made out of Use: “The substance was made of…”
Not: “The substance was made out of…”
Major breakthrough/feat Use: “These findings represent a breakthrough in the field of…”
Not: “These findings represent a major breakthrough in the field of…”
May/might possibly Use: “Othello may have been…”
Not: “Othello may possibly have been…”
Most unique Use: “Blyton’s use of alliteration was unique.”
Not: “Blyton’s use of alliteration was most unique.”
Mutual cooperation/respect Use: “The two philosophers respected one another.”
Not: “The two philosophers had mutual respect for one another.”
Never before Use: “Never have I been so amazed.”
Not: “Never before have I been so amazed.”
New innovation/invention/idea Use: “Henry Ford presented an innovation that changed the world.”
Not: “Henry Ford presented a new innovation that changed the world.”
Now pending Use: “The grade for my essay is pending.”
Not: “The grade for my essay is now pending.”
Originally created Use: “The digital form was created by…”
Not: “The digital form was originally created by…”
Past experience Use: “My experience has taught me…”
Not: “My past experience has taught me…”
Period of time Use: “It was during that period that steam power emerged.”
Not: “It was during that period of time that steam power emerged.”
Polar opposites Use: “Night and day are opposites.”
Not: “Night and day are polar opposites.”
Present time Use: “The findings are not available at present.”
Not: “The findings are not available at the present time.”
Reason why Use: “This essay will argue that the reason…”
Not: “This essay will argue that the reason why…”
Refer back/reply back/revert back Use: “At this point, we will refer to the work of…”
Not: “At this point, we will refer back to the work of…”
Take a look at Use: “This essay will examine…”
Not: “This essay will take a look at…”
Within that time frame Use: “We will perform all the tests within that time frame.”
Not: “We will perform all the tests within that time.”
Write down Use: “The respondents were asked to write their names.”
Not: “The respondents were asked to write down their names.”

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 herethere, 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

Word/Phrase to Avoid in an Essay Much Better Alternative(s)
It is/It’s Use: “Blood is thicker than water.”
Not: “It is a fact that blood is thicker than water.”
It would be Use: “As logical to expect…”
Not: “As it would be logical to expect…”
There’s/There is Use: “The evidence suggests the hypothesis is correct.”
Not: “There is evidence to suggest that the hypothesis is correct.”
There are/There were Use: “This essay presents numerous ideas.”
Not: “There are numerous ideas presented in this essay.”
There will be Use: “Future studies will investigate this area further.”
Not: “There will be future studies to investigate this idea further.”
All things being equal Use: “We expect the outcomes to indicate…”
Not: “All things being equal, we expect the outcomes to indicate…”
For all intents and purposes Use: “This paper has achieved its objective of…”
Not: “For all intents and purposes, this paper has achieved its objective of…”
For the most part Use: “The story predominantly explored the theme of unrequited love.”
Not: “For the most part, the story explored the theme of unrequited love.”
For the purpose of Use: “This essay reviewed the idea of sentiment.”
Not: “For the purpose of this essay, the idea of sentiment was reviewed…”
Here’s the thing Use: “Soda consumption is linked with obesity.”
Not: “Here’s the thing: Soda consumption is linked with obesity.”
Is after/are after Use: “The recommendations follow the analysis.”
Not: “The recommendations are after the analysis.”
Cut down on Use: “We effectively reduced the mistakes.”
Not: “We effectively cut down on the number of mistakes.”

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

Word/Phrase to Avoid in an Essay Much Better Alternative(s)
Present an analysis/recommendation/conclusion Use: “I will then analyze the data.”
Not: “I will then progress to present an analysis of the data.”
Appearance Use: “She appeared unexpectedly.”
Not: “Her appearance was unexpected.”
Attempt at Use: “We attempted to reproduce the results but failed.”
Not: “Our attempts at reproducing the results were unsuccessful.”
Belief Use: “Winston believed the state was corrupt.”
Not: “It was Winston’s belief that the state was corrupt.”
Carelessness Use: “Robert’s carelessness caused John’s death.”
Not: “John died because of Robert’s carelessness.”
Caused a drop in Use: “The temperature dropped due to the rain.”
Not: “The rain caused a drop in temperature.”
Caused considerable confusion Use: “Jesus’ behavior confused the priest.”
Not: “Jesus’ behavior caused considerable confusion for the priest.”
Comparison Use: “We compared the height and weight of the participants.”
Not: “We drew a comparison between the height and the weight of the participants.”
Decrease in strength Use: “The flavor weakened when water was added.”
Not: “The flavor decreased in strength when water was added.”
Definition Use: “Kotler defined strategic marketing as…”
Not: “Kotler’s definition of strategic marketing was as follows…”
Description Use: “I will conclude by describing the main findings.”
Not: “I will conclude with a description of the main findings.”
Difficulty Use: “Reproducing the results was difficult.”
Not: “I experienced difficulties reproducing the results.”
Ease Use: “The hero easily won the battle.”
Not: “The hero won the battle with ease.”

Phew!

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.