Improve your writing by dumping fuzzy words

To really improve your writing, your words should be very specific and read maybe something like what you’d find in a story that’s not so loosely written.


The problem with the above advice is it’s riddled with fuzzy words – or words that aren’t precise: really, very, maybe, something like, no so loosely. Such words weaken your writing by giving an inexact, out-of-focus picture of the landscape or idea that you’re portraying. Other fuzzy words include almost, half- , very, really, seem, looked like, and felt.

They’re also known as “weasel words,” because as a writer, you have a responsibility to be precise. By using fuzzy words, though, the writer fails to do the hard work of writing and instead behaves like an optometrist who does a sloppy job and hands a customer a pair of glasses in which the prescription is slightly off.

The opening sentence would be improved if rewritten as: To improve your writing, your words should be specific, like those in a tightly-constructed story.

As with any rule, there’s an exception, of course. Fuzzy words might be used in dialogue to show that a character has an imprecise sense of what occurred (“I only got a glimpse – it looked to be almost eight feet tall.”) or when that character is being deceptive (He suppressed a grimace. “It’s very good,” he said, not looking up.).