Like many people, I’m resolving to get rid of clutter. But I’m not talking about clearing out my closets or using the KonMari method to organize my kitchen. The clutter in my life is crutch words. And I was surprised to learn that my content is full of them.
What are crutch words?
Crutch words are words we think we need to get a point across. They become a problem when we overuse them. This repetition detracts from the point we’re trying to make. Think of them like an overplayed pop song – you remember the refrain but not the rest of the lyrics.
Stephen King and scores of writing coaches say that adverbs are the biggest crutch word culprit. But my affliction seems to know no bounds. According to my esteemed Aha editors, I also have a problem with certain verbs (help), adjectives (special) and nouns (care). In fact, I used one crutch word more than 100 times in a 17-page project. Ugh!
Crutch words have become like an old, comfortable hoodie – I can’t seem to go a week without using them! They have become hard-wired into my writing style – my go-to words for describing the best (another crutch word!) treatments for a range (and another!) of complex (this, too!) conditions.
As you can see, cleaning up this kind of clutter is no small task. So I’ve pulled together some guidelines to help me stay on track.
Here’s my plan for taking down crutch words:
- Find new ways to express ideas: I’m not just going to think of substitute words – I’m going to think of new ways to make my point. Instead of saying a treatment “helps” relieve symptoms, I might say that many people “find relief from symptoms” after receiving that treatment. I might say treatments that are “most effective” instead of best. This method may be challenging, but the reward is that my content will have more variety.
- Recognize when it’s OK to use a crutch word: It’s not realistic to completely banish crutch words from my vocabulary. In fact, sometimes it’s more awkward not to use them. I’m giving myself permission to use crutch words – sparingly.
- Look for patterns and break them: I’m going to stay ahead of the curve by identifying when I’m most likely to use a crutch word, such as when I’m explaining the patient benefits of a treatment. When I hit this crossroad, I’ll choose my words carefully.
- Ask for help: Sometimes you need to call in for backup. If I find myself in a rut, I know I can tap one of our editors for suggestions.
Once I snuff out my current crutch words, new ones may emerge. But with these guidelines, I’m more likely to catch them and take them down before they become hard-wired.
Here’s to freedom from crutch words!
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