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  • Writer's pictureVarun Sharma

The dirty dozen: 12 words and phrases to avoid (and what to use instead)

Content marketing is an acquisition channel.

What you choose to put in front of readers says a lot about what you want to convey.

The success of online content depends on whether they will stay to read the next line. And it all comes down to the right word choice.

But with so much content around us, it’s hard to find the right way to express your ideas. Some words have lost all meaning. People don’t even recognize them anymore.

Here is a list of a dozen such words. You’ll find the suggested alternatives, but sometimes it’s better just to delete.

1. Groundbreaking

The iPhone was groundbreaking. So were Google’s self-driving cars. These are stunning technological marvels.

Is your technology groundbreaking? Would that be an accurate representation?

Readers are discerning and will call you out for using an incorrect word.

What to use instead

If you don’t find your product or service groundbreaking, say it’s ‘better.’ Then show them how it is better than the standard options available. It may require more than one word, but your readers will understand what you mean.

2. Enable

‘Enable’ is often found in wordy sentences. It sounds formal and cold (though you can’t quite put your finger on why!)

You can’t help feeling that what ‘enable’ conveys might not be sincere. It is best to take it out and use more direct language.

What to use instead

Allow, let

3. Unique

‘Unique’ is an overused word. It is often used to describe something that the writer thinks is special, rather than something that the reader will see as truly unique. The incorrect usage discounts everything that’s special about your product or service.

"Unique" is often used to describe something that the writer thinks is special, rather than something that the reader will see as truly unique.

What to use instead

Use specific words to show what’s special, unusual, or exemplary about your offering. Make them feel it’s ‘unique’ without telling them. Paint a clear picture.

See our post on managing feedback for tips on how to avoid these situations :-)

4. Optimize

The word ‘optimize’ means employing a resource to make it efficient.

It has become an industry-abused word that always sounds too generic. People use it to make their writing appear smart but end up making it awkward and insufficient.

What to use instead

Be specific and show what you did to ‘optimize.’ Describe the optimization bit. For instance, you can explain a particular function. For example, perhaps you:

  • removed a feature to make your app accessible?

  • added a new marketing automation tool to nurture leads?

  • integrated legacy software to ensure your tech works seamlessly?

5. Disruptive

Disruptive companies are the real ‘category creators.’ They come along and shake up the entire industry with their ideas, forcing everyone to reevaluate their business model.

If you’re not disruptive and claim to be, you’re going to do more damage than you think. It would seem like an attempt to elevate your importance.

What to use instead

You don’t want to insult your reader’s intelligence. Prove you are disruptive and show them how. Use descriptive language with unopposed proof to back your claim.

6. Synergy

The Greek word ‘Sunergos’ translates to English as ‘synergy.’ It means collaboration between two or more parties to achieve a common goal.

We are all guilty of using ‘synergy’ at some point. No one understands what it means anymore. It sounds old and cliche.

What to use instead

‘Working together’ or ‘teamwork’ is a perfect replacement.

7. Really

When we speak, ‘really’ becomes part of what we are trying to say. But when writing, you can cut it to make your writing purposeful.

Phrases like ‘really accurate’ or ‘really improved’ do not work. It’s better to quantify and give the exact picture.

What to use instead

Swap ‘really’ for a more accurate descriptor. When in doubt - drop it altogether.

8. I Believe

The way you start your sentence can make or break your argument. Do not use the words ‘I believe’ in order to elevate what’s being said. It implies doubt or insincerity. You end up watering down your message.

Your readers already assume you believe in what you’re sharing. They would not want to consume content infested with vague thoughts.

What to use instead

Get to the point and save your reader’s time.

9. Passionate

You don’t care about data protection, AI tech, or whatever you claim to be passionate about, do you? It’s one of those expressions that most businesses say but rarely mean.

Tech companies have abused ‘passionate’ to the point that it appears insincere. So, avoid using passionate as a placeholder. Instead, try showing some passion in the way you write.

What to use instead

Genuine passion is something you show, not tell. Share an experience. Put your customer at the center of your story. Showcase your love for what you do through vibrant words.

Genuine passion is something you show, not tell.

10. Customer obsession

A truly ‘customer-obsessed’ company goes beyond customers’ expressed desires and wants. Apple did this for years, producing items people thought were impossible or improbable. All because they put their heart into what everyone else took so lightly.

Obsession is a powerful word. Only use it to describe something your company puts your heart and soul into. Please do not throw it around, or it would prove counterproductive.

What to use instead

What’s the one problem that your product or service obliterates—something you’re proud of.

Focus on describing that problem (and the subsequent solution) through your content. It is much better than using a blanket phrase declaring your obsession.

11. Dynamic

Dynamic means the ‘ability to adapt.’ And it’s a good thing to adapt to changes. But if being ‘dynamic’ is your main defining trait, your readers could be concerned. Here’s why.

‘Dynamic’ represents constant change or motion. It sounds risky and might send the wrong message. Your readers don’t want to rely on a pivot of yours or, worse yet - abandoning them when they need you most.

What to use instead

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘dynamic’ of your product or service. Instead, explain how your product or service will serve your prospects in a changing world.

Describe how you will handle an unfamiliar problem. Use your writing skills to highlight your depth and sophistication. Do not hide behind one big word.

12. Innovative

Innovation is a word that gets thrown around too often. It has lost its punch and no longer informs what differentiates you.

Everything, from a face mask to blockchain technology, claims to be ‘innovative.’ There is no point using an overused lazy word and drowning in the sea of sameness.

What to use instead

Most companies don’t revolutionize their industry or change the world as we know it. They offer slight alternatives, and this should be celebrated.

Write about the differences that make you innovative. Maybe you’ve embraced a different business model. Or you use blockchain tech to solve a well-known problem.

It comes down to describing the ‘how’ of innovation.

Concluding thoughts

Choosing the right words is about giving direct answers. It comes down to respecting your readers.

The reader is looking for specific information. Their patience is not unlimited. If you make them work too hard, they will go elsewhere and find something easier on their brain.

Do you know the words that you overuse?

You can always identify them in a couple of ways.

  • Review the last few content items you’ve written by plugging the text into the Hemingway app.

  • Talk to editors who frequently edit your content.

  • Hit "Command F" to search for any suspect words in your copy.

The key here is awareness. Be mindful of your usage so you can review it over time.

One other way to improve your content and copy

If you need expert input for your B2B tech content marketing, strategy, or copywriting, get in touch!

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