Words to avoid when copywriting

For some reason, people who are not copywriters but who are tasked with copywriting marketing or sales content, such as website copy, case studies, tenders or proposals, brochures and similar, often find themselves using long-winded words. It’s like they’re back in the Year 12 classroom. 

A study by D. Oppenheimer at Princeton University found that if you use long words and jargon you come across as less knowledgeable and less competent than if you expressed the same ideas using plain English. 

The study, with the eye-watering title ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly’ (published in Applied Cognitive Psychology), makes a lot of sense for B2B copywriting and copy editing, too. 

Here are some easy, quick ways to polish up any B2B document you’ve written: tender, proposal, article, profile or brochure.  

Good copy writers and copy editors know to look out for such words. We’ve distilled our experience into this quick guide to words to avoid when copywriting. 

Avoid self-promoting words 

It’s common to see a business describe itself as the’ best’ or as the ‘leading’ in its field. You’ll see typical phrases and words along the lines of: Australia’s premier, leading providers, uniquely qualified, trusted advisors, highly regarded by, committed to…and so on. 

The problem is, while it’s easy to say these things, it’s more important to give evidence that proves you are the best. 

Unless, you have independent evidence to prove your business really is the best, avoid judgement words. 

For example, it’s just not credible to say: “We are the leading law firm…” 

It is better to say: “Five of Australia’s top 10 listed businesses choose our legal advice.” 

Minimise using the verbs ‘To be’ and ‘To have’ 

We can often cut out the verb ‘to be’ or ‘to have’ and replace it with a stronger, more action-oriented words. These are words such as: is, are, was, had, has, have etc 

For instance, instead of: “Our company has five customer consultants…” 

It is more powerful to say: “Our company offers you help from five customer consultants…” 

Or instead of: “Our law firm has 50 lawyers.” 

Try: “You gain access to the experience of our 50 lawyers.” 

Or instead of: “We are replacing our IT system later this year with the latest technology.” 

Try: “Our new IT system launches in October.” (You don’t need to say ‘latest technology’ as everyone will assume that’s what you’ve bought.) 

Avoid negatives, such as ‘not’ and ‘no’.  

Turn your sentences into positives.  

For example: “You will not be charged for every phone call.” 

Try: “Every phone call is free.” 

Or: “Ring for advice at any time. Every call is free.” 

Liberal use of positive words creates a reassuring tone. For example:  

  • Dependable 
  • Successful 
  • Quality 
  • Reliable 
  • First 
  • Versatile 
  • Trusted 
  • Strong 
  • Approved 
  • Expert 
  • Exclusive 
  • Efficient 
  • Proactive 
  • Bespoke 
  • Unique 
  • Thorough 

Don’t be afraid to be descriptive. ‘Our customer service team’ sounds better when described as ‘Our helpful customer service team’. Likewise, ‘A fully-qualified technician’ sounds so much better than ‘A technician’. 

Be direct by avoiding weak words 

Verbs such as believe, think, strive and intend imply hesitancy and uncertainty, as does could and would. 

Delete them and write about what you can and will do. 

For instance, ‘ABC Widgets will provide on-site training’ sounds a lot more assertive than ‘ABC Widgets would provide on-site training’. A subtle change but mighty powerful. The first example assumes the cat’s in the bag; the second is waiting for permission.  You get the same effect replacing ‘could’ with ‘can’. 

Other seemingly innocuous phrases leave room for doubt and can be counter-productive. Take the example, ‘If successful, ABC Widgets intends to replace…’. Why even use those first two words or say ‘intends to’? You’ll instantly created a more authoritative tone saying, ‘ABC Widgets will replace…’.  

Another subtle but powerful technique. ‘Orders are despatched within two hours of receipt’ is much more direct and confident than, ‘Orders will generally be despatched within two hours of receipt’ 

Also watch out for jargon and acronyms.  

Avoid formal or long words 

Why use long words or phrases when short ones do the job just as well? For example: 

  • Demonstrate…show
  • Facilitate…make easy
  • Assistance…help
  • A wide range of…range of
  • Timely and efficient manner…on time
  • In order to… to
  • Illustrate…show
  • Initial…first
  • Initiate…start 

Avoid using two words when one will do  

It’s easy to double up by using two words when one will do.  

 For example: 

  •  Actual experience – all experience is actual so get rid of actual 
  •  Weekly meetings each Monday – Funnily enough, Monday comes round each week, so delete weekly or each Monday 
  •  Major disaster – what, as opposed to a minor disaster? Delete major 
  •  Most unique – it’s impossible to be more unique than unique as unique means the only one of its kind. Delete most. 
  •  Advanced planning – all planning is done in advance, so get rid of advanced. 

Copywriting and copy editing takes practice, like everything else. Keeping an eye out for words to avoid to make your writing stronger makes good sense. 

For B2B copywriting, copy editing and proofreading that gets results, you can rely on Proof Communications. Contact us today! Or call us on 02 8036 5532. 

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