Comfort vocab: what’s your trade mark phrase?

Posted on 14 February 2014 by Emily Stella

I proofread a colleague’s lengthy document this week (let’s call her Claire), and soon noticed she repeated the same word throughout. That word was nevertheless, and it started every other paragraph.

This made me think about the regularity with which people use certain words or phrases, both in speech and in writing. We’re all guilty of it. I noticed recently that I was saying historically far too much. But now I’ve caught myself at it, I’ll rein it in.

These words form part of our personality. We automatically weave them into our language without thinking; their use becomes a habit and makes us feel safe. It’s also because we can’t be bothered to think of other words, particularly when we’re short of time.

So what are the repercussions of such repetitive language?

It’s distracting.
It becomes like a tic – a flicking pen or tapping foot. Once your reader starts noticing it, they can’t block it out. And if they’re thinking about how often you’ve used the word nevertheless, they’re probably glossing over your key points.

A lot of the time, it’s not actually the right word.
Words like nevertheless, although, however and furthermore are used incorrectly all the time. Don’t use your comfort vocab over more suitable wording. And if you do get stuck, just pick up a dictionary or thesaurus.

Most importantly, it signals a lack of thinking.
Instead of pausing to think and plan, Claire launched straight in. The outcome was loosely written and very wordy text, and a lot of repetition. When writing, you have time to choose your words; don’t let your fingers work faster than your brain.

Repeating yourself is often a sign you’re writing on autopilot. Take your document to a quiet spot, switch your brain on, read it aloud and be very self-critical.