Don’t Write These Words

by JustinLL on 22 April 2009

In my college-going days, one of my Software Engineering courses had a professor who put a sound deal of emphasis on the documentation side of programming — the written description of the solution to the problem our software was trying to solve. For a wannabe English minor with a focus in grammar like myself, his courses were a nice break from all the number- and theory-oriented course load required of the curriculum. I don’t know if said professor is still teaching, and I’m not that concerned, but he was one of the ones who left me with something worth remembering, and that was his list of words we weren’t to use in our writing, the "bad words list." (Surprisingly or not, it’s one of those handouts I’ve held onto all these years later, and I still make some kind of effort not to include those words in my writing, but then I also chuckle a bit when I notice that I have included one.) Long story short, here’s the list as last updated in November 1997:

Bad Words List

Avoid using these words in documents and on tests. They convey little
information and won’t help the reader understand.

  • and/or, etc., misc.
  • It is always possible to re-write the sentence to remove these vague terms.

  • basically, basic
  • A common speech filler; in a document, it is of the same genre as generally and is basically unclear.

  • compatible
  • These are hundreds of different opinions on this word. Say what you mean.  (e.g. The computer must be able to run Doom.)

  • easy, easier, easiest, easily, simply, hard, harder, hardest
  • These are impossible to test. State some specific number to write a clear sentence.

  • efficient, more efficient, less efficient
  • Unless you are discussing furnaces, this word is vague. Say
    what you mean.

  • flexible, flexibility
  • Unless you are discussing gymnastics, this word is vague. Say
    what you mean.

  • quickly, more quickly, less quickly, fast, faster
  • Same problem as easy.

  • maximize, minimize, optimize
  • These are precise in mathematics; in English they are basically unclear.  State clearly what parameters you are trying to maximize or minimize.

  • module, modular, modularity
  • These terms have a wide variety of definitions, probably more than compatible.

  • user friendly
  • Are you kidding?

  • usually, generally, should, probably
  • These are all of the same, unclear, genre. Write what you mean.   Document readers hate these words.

  • very
  • If emphasis is needed, use a precise word.

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