Crutch Words: Why They Cripple Your Writing

Heather R. Todd

In a conversation, “crutch words” give you an extra second to think of what to say. In writing, they are glaring annoyances that destroy your writing style.

“Honestly, I found it very…”
“Because it was really quite…”
”Basically, it should have been so simple…”
”Actually, it literally did not say much…”

We all do it; crutch words have been slowing us down since language was invented. In a spoken conversation, these “crutch words” are often used to give us that extra second to think of what we want to say. In writing, they are those words you over use. Are everyone’s lips “luscious?” Did the protagonist “basically manage the entire store?” Are your characters “really tired” or “very tired” instead of being exhausted?

Get out of your comfort zone

Crutch words are not good for writers; we use these phrases because they are comfortable. We’ve decided they are okay. We use them so we can move on to something else.

While these words fill pages, they don’t make for better writing, or worse, better stories.

Don’t annoy your readers

Your readers pick up on these crutch words. In fact, they can become glaring annoyances to a good story and destroy the writing style you are trying to create. They may even be enough to get your reader to put the book down.

Not sure if you are guilty?

Need some examples? Look for repetitive use of these words:

  • went

  • quite

  • truly

  • is/was/were

  • very

  • actually

  • really

  • have/had

  • so

  • anyway

  • could/should/would

  • literally

  • almost

  • all

If you start to notice that your writing is peppered with these types of overused words or verbs, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are these words adding anything to the meaning of the sentence? Do they enhance the story?

  • Will it alter the story to remove the crutch word from it? Can it be replaced with a more unique description or active verb?

  • Can the sentence be made shorter by using different words?

Try reading the sentence out loud. This engages a different part of the brain to help you process the sentence. It allows you to hear what the words sound like, which may change the way you read the sentence entirely.

Just Say No! to crutch words

It can be hard trying to identify crutch words, especially when you are very close to the document you’re working on. Fortunately, a friend or editor can usually identify your obvious crutch words with just a little reading.

With time and consistent effort, your writing will naturally improve. In the meanwhile, seek out the help you need to overcome using these comfortable little words.

Remember: crutch words exist. Eliminate them diligently.