The ‘four letter words’ of writing

People have a ridiculously short attention span for reading these days – especially online. So one of the goals when you write is to make it as easy as possible for them to stay with you.

There are MANY ways we do this, and today I want to talk to you about one of them that can make a big difference: eliminating extra or unnecessary words.

First things first: I don’t want you to worry about this when you’re writing. That’s the time to let it flow and not worry about the rules.

But during the EDITING phase, take a moment to comb through your copy searching for:

  1. Words that are unnecessary and can be eliminated altogether
  2. Two words that can be combined into one single more powerful word

I’ve compiled a list of the most common culprits (that I regularly edit out of my own writing!). Here they are, with some guidance around how to deal with ’em. (And yeah, I know one of ’em has five letters, but whatevah.)


Really and very are lazy words. If you come across one during your edit, ask yourself if the thing you’re talking about is truly worth emphasizing. If not, simply take the really/very out. If so, replace ‘really/very _____’ with a single, more powerful word.

For example, ‘really tired’ becomes ‘exhausted’. ‘Really happy’ becomes ‘elated’. You get the picture. In addition to eliminating a word, you’re also painting a more vivid picture for your reader which is ALWAYS a good thing.


Just is a permission word that women especially are guilty of using far too much. (Google it if you want to learn more about why it’s not doing you any favours – you’ll quickly discover it’s a hot topic.)

The bottom line is that, without ‘just’, your sentence will be more direct and powerful. This is a lesson that applies as much in real life as it does in writing. Saying goodbye to ‘just’ will almost certainly make you feel more confident.

Keep an eye out for it in emails especially. Again, don’t worry about it when you’re writing, but check for it afterwards.


Obviously some instances of that are going to be necessary. But you’ll find it in all kinds of sentences that would work perfectly well without it.

Some examples:

  • I hope that you come visit us soon! >> I hope you come visit us soon!
  • We find that people most often select… >> We find people most often select…

THAT said (ha), this one is really a judgement call. It’s not incorrect to include ‘that’ – simply a readability/personal preference decision.

So there you have it – a super quick and easy way to tighten up your writing – and maybe even punch it up at the same time. Good luck with it – and if you’d like a few more impactful little tips, click the button below to sign up for my email updates and I’ll send you a PDF with five of ’em.