20+ Words to Avoid Writing in Your Essay

Essays, assignments, admissions…

These words implicate the pain of students from all over the world, don’t you agree? They yet sound like a creepy snake whispering, “You shall not passsss!”

Most students hate writing essays. It’s difficult, time- and energy consuming, and challenging to complete them. A thesis, arguments, references, and conclusion are fundamental to every essay. But what makes yours stellar is words you use to convince readers. Words are your powerful weapon to prove critical thinking and knowledge of the topic. Words help you stand out in a crowd of other students writing about the same topics.

But here’s the problem:

Not all words are useful. Some are clunky and redundant, while others make your writing mumbling. Some you use for word count rather than meaning, and they make essays sound complicated yet empty.

For concise and meaningful writing, do your best to avoid these words and phrases in your admission essays.

1) Contractions

In essays, avoid abbreviations such as “don’t,” “can’t,” and “won’t.” Academic works suppose using full words, so write them rather than contractions.

2) Idioms

Set phrases enrich a language, but leave them for personal stories, blog posts, or fiction books. An admission essay is a task to check your skills of formal writing, not your ability to entertain or wow professors with flourished vocabulary. Stay clear and concise.

3-5) “So on,” “etc,” “and so forth

These run-on expressions demonstrate nothing but your inability to work with arguments, details, and examples. They scream, “I do not know what else to say!” Avoid them in your essays.

6) Clichés

Phrases a la “it’s an open secret,” “we all know,” or “sleep like a baby” are clichés used so often that have lost relevance far long ago. They are a poor attempt to strike as clever, but such words sound false in sober fact.

7-11) “Thing,” “stuff,” “good,” “bad,” “big

The problem with these words is colloquiality and vagueness, inappropriate for academic language. It’s okay to use them in everyday talk; but when in essays, they sound too elementary and make admission officers think of your poor vocabulary. Do your best to master paraphrasing and synonymization for writing more sophisticated words in academic papers.

12) Slang, jargon, teen speak

Remember the audience. Even though admission officers might read Buzzfeed articles in spare time, they will hardly appreciate such writing style in your formal essay. Leave slang where it’s appropriate.

13) Rhetorical questions

Asking them, you assume that readers know the answer. But why then do they need this information? What’s its value? Rhetorical questions don’t expect explanations, which is inappropriate for academic writing. What seems evident to you might not be so for a reader, that is why you should provide clear statements in essays.

14-17) “In terms of,” “needless to say,” “in conclusion,” “it goes without saying

Parenthetic words bring no surplus value to your writings. They may serve as transitional phrases in informal works but become redundant when used in academic essays. Professors will consider it a trick to complete a word count rather than add value to your work.

18) Quotes

Quoting and referencing are a must-have for academic essays, but this rule is about starting your work with a quote from a famous person. First, this trick is so overused that drives professors nuts; and second, they want to hear from you, not Hemingway, Musk, or Obama. It’s your essay, so its tone of voice and personality should be yours.

19-26) “Very,” “quite,” “really,” “totally,” “already,” “fairly,” “actually,” “just

All they are weak modifiers or redundant –ly adverbs with no meaning. When you need to write a 2,000-word essay, you might fight against the temptation to insert them; but the result will be poor because such words are irrelevant and bring no surplus value to the statements you use in essays. “Very unique,” “really interesting,” and “quite enough” have nothing to do with efficient academic writings.

27) Passive voice

Most educators ask students to avoid passive voice because this grammar construction 1) weakens wiring and 2) “lacks explicit reference to who the actor is.” Use active voice to make all statements clear to readers.

When writing essays, let words be your allies. Use those powerful words to communicate your message to admission officers and overtake other students. Be concise, enhance your vocabulary, consider active verbs and clear sentence structure, and do not plagiarize ideas and texts from peers or online sources. Convey your skills and highlight strengths in your academic writings.

Lesley Vos is a private educator of the French language. Lives in Chicago, crafts web content, shares writing experience with peers. In love with print books, coffee, and words. Feel free to visit @LesleyVos on Twitter to find more works of hers.



28 Comments on “20+ Words to Avoid Writing in Your Essay

  1. When I ask my teacher to help me do my essay online he didn’t mention any of this words, is it so necessary to avoid this words? My mark for the essay will be lower if it contain some of this words?
    Thanks for the advice, bests Karl

    • Hi Karl,

      It really all depends on the professors giving you the grades. However, many professors will probably advise you to avoid these words.


    • Yes, literary words are perfectly fine for informal essays, but when it is time for an academic essay, it is a huge no-no!

    • I think that literary words are okay to use, just not in a proper essay.

  2. Can i use the word several when im writing my backup information? Im writing a argumentative essay.

  3. Thanks a lot for this information.
    Now I can make essays much better than before.


  4. I disagree with using active voice throughout. If it is an academic essay with the focus on process or event, the active should not be used. Academic language should be impersonal.

  5. Pingback: 27 things to avoid in Essay Writing - English Blog

  6. So did you use the word “I like” or “I think” on a factual essay? That could really help you structure! \ (‘0’)/

    • you really don’t need to worry about your writing in 5th grade

  7. and also this is called college Counselling so I’m not sure why people are worrying unless there in college

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