Putting your best words forward

“Prose is words in the best order. Poetry is the best words in the best order.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge made this statement well before social media, text messaging or mobile websites existed. But choosing the best words to convey a message is always a smart idea, especially when it comes to online communications.

Reading online involves scanning for keywords. Readers search for terms that catch their interest instead of giving all words equal attention.

With online writing, messages need to be distilled into a headline, a tweet or a Facebook status. Using words that don’t quite mean what you want to say can result in miscommunication, or in reaching an unintended audience.

Here are some words I’d like to eliminate from my own online writing:

I blame my teachers for this one. Well, at least partially. Many of them told me to stop using good to describe things. I somehow exchanged it with great without them noticing it was practically just as meaningless. There’s almost always a better word than great.

I have a bad habit of describing things as being amazing when they are not even close to actually being amazing. For instance, a friend will say they had a delicious dinner last night. “Amazing!” I’ll reply, complete with exclamation point. But there’s nothing amazing about it. I am not amazed. Luckily, my penchant for amazing is limited to social media and emails. Still, I’d like to stop using it so frivolously.

This one doesn’t come up a lot, but it’s usually pointless when it does. Currently and I generally come in contact whenever I set up my out-of-office email alert. For some reason, my instinct is to write “I’m currently away from the office” when “I’m away from the office” will do. It’s sort of a given I’m referring to the present.

Of all the words I’ve listed, important is the one I have the least problem with. I’m not sure it shows up in my writing a lot. The problem is when I do use it, I feel it has little meaning. Maybe I think so many other people overuse important and it’s become a little bit weak. Even significant or essential seem to have more weight.

If I didn’t edit my work, it might look like I loved everything. “I love tea!” “I love Sunday mornings!” “I love my blue cardigan!” But I don’t truly love these things. I do like them quite a bit, but using love so much takes away from the word’s power. I think it’s all right to use love in this context…sometimes. But I don’t want to overdo it.

It annoys me when I see the above words in my writing. I try to catch them before it’s too late, before they are sent into the online world, forever.

But I don’t want to be too hard on myself. All words have a place. It’s just a matter of putting the right words in the right place at the right time. And taking a few extra minutes to read—not scan—before sharing those words with the rest of the world.