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Posts Tagged ‘vague terms’

Get Rid of “It” (and other vague words)

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Have you ever had trouble expressing your message clearly?

I certainly have.

What can we do as writers to help our readers understand our message?

Get rid of “it,” for starters.  Not the message, of course, but the word “it” itself.  Like the Knights who say Ni, “it” is a word that a writer should not use.

“It” is perhaps the most ambiguous word in the entire English language.  “It” can be a monkey, a skill, a xylophone, or any number of other concepts that can be found in the dictionary.

The next time you write something (a comment in response to this post?), try looking through your work and replace the word “it” with the concept you’re truly trying to capture.

Alternatively, choose one of your already written works and scan through for instances of “it”.  If you’re like me, when you’re writing, you tend to naturally use “it” in the course of writing stories or articles.  However, by using “it,” you are robbing your readers of your true meaning.

Read the following sentence (borrowed from a story I wrote recently in response to a writing prompt):

It was just too early…we’d barely gotten to know each other, and while we’d been so similar at first, we couldn’t have had more different ideologies in raising a family.

The sentence seems just fine, but there is a way to improve.  Rewording the sentence to eliminate “it” results in a clearer message:

The pregnancy had come too early…we’d barely gotten to know each other, and while we’d been so similar at first, we couldn’t have had more different ideologies in raising a family.

Which of the two sentences is more clear?  In the first, a reader is left questioning what “it” is, even at the end…is “it” a marriage?  Two people moving in together?  A pregnancy?

The second sentence is more clear–the reader understands immediately what the author intended.

When editing your work, try to eliminate “it”.  I aim to have no usage of the word “it” in my writing (with the exception of this post, of course!).  Other words I look for and try to avoid:

  • it, thing, stuff — Replace  the vague term with a more accurate noun
  • very, extremely, really — Eliminate, or, if I want to stress some particular aspect of a verb or noun, choose a more explicit adverb or adjective, or rephrase the sentence.  For example, instead of “extremely difficult”, I might say “difficult”, “complex” or “laborious”, depending on what aspect I want to emphasize.
  • was, am, are — Choose a more specific verb or phrase.  For example, instead of “I was excited,” a better choice might be “Excited, I <performed some action>”

In general, if I can think of a more specific word that still applies, I use the more specific word instead of a vague one.

Okay, so if “it” is such a bad word, why does it exist? “It” certainly has its place–for example, when an object has no gender (such as the example in this sentence).

In this case, we have to be vague…if there is no term to describe the object, you may have no choice but to use the word “it.”  However, in most cases, you can remove “it” from your sentences.

Writing clearly is one of the most challenging jobs that a writer has.  Following this simple strategy of eliminating vague terms will help us to write more clearly.

Happy writing!

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