If you write web content, your clients may or may not ask you to include links when you make certain assertions in your writing. If a client wants links when, say, you cite a statistic, that's when you have to really watch out for words that indicate you know more than you actually do.
One of the best things about the web (and possibly the worst, depending on the topic) is that you can find a statistic to back up just about anything. Statistics, of course, can be manipulated in countless ways, and people use them to push their agendas. The point is, if you can get a concrete statistic from a reasonable source, use that (and link to the source if possible), and avoid using these weasel words:
- "It is believed ..."
- "It is often reported ..."
- "More and more people ..."
- "Some say ..."
- "Research shows ..." (although this can be OK if it's followed by a well-sourced statistic)
- "Many are of the opinion ..."
You may be asked to write a lighthearted or humorous look at a topic, and with these pieces, it's easier to get away with weasel words, but you should still avoid them if you can. Avoiding overused words makes your writing fresher and ultimately helps the language evolve in new ways.
Writing satire, however, is different. Do you ever read The Onion? If so, you have seen the fine art of using weasel words to humorous effect. Weasel words that editorialize or express skepticism can make for wonderful satire. Some examples include:
When writing serious pieces for clients, you should watch out for management jargon. These are phrases like "thinking outside the box," "touch base," and "drill down." I will admit to having used management jargon on multiple occasions out of laziness. However, there's nothing wrong with using non-jargon phrases in the context of business writing. "We need new ideas," for example, works just as well as, "Think outside the box." Read this article as well as it's hilarious comments if you want a good laugh at management jargon.
Writers, including myself, should make a concerted effort to recognize weasel words, and to learn to replace them with actual statistics, non-editorializing adjectives, and plain language instead of business terminology. Doing so will make your writing better, clearer, and less likely to appear dated in the future.
Photo Credit: Kevin Law / Creative Commons License