words to avoid in an essay

Words to Avoid in an Essay. List With Explanations

As an experienced IB writer, I’ve learned the hard way about the power of words in academic writing. In this guide, I’m sharing my insights on words to avoid in essays. Remember, the words you choose can significantly impact the effectiveness of your paper. Let’s get started!

Understanding the Impact of Word Choice

Word choice in essay writing, especially in an IB context, is more than selecting sophisticated vocabulary. It’s fundamentally about how effectively and convincingly you communicate your ideas.

As someone deeply involved in the IB DP curriculum, I’ve seen students encounter challenges in this area. Often, there’s a temptation to use complex or high-level vocabulary to impress. However, this strategy can backfire if those phrases don’t precisely convey the intended meaning or if they make the text unnecessarily complicated.

So, what about words to avoid in an essay? For instance, consider the difference between using “utilize” and “use”. Both have the same meaning, but “use” is more straightforward. Clarity should always be a priority over complexity in academic writing. Choosing words that enhance your argument is essential, rather than detracting from it with ambiguity or obscurity.

Moreover, the power of word choice extends beyond individual words to phrases and sentence structures. As you write, think about how your words flow together. Do they lead the reader smoothly from one point to the next? Are you being concise, or are your sentences bloated with unnecessary words? These considerations are crucial to making your essay informative, engaging, and easy to follow.

In the IB, where critical thinking skills and clear expression are highly valued, paying attention to word choice can significantly impact your grades and the effectiveness of your essays. Remember, the phrases you choose can clarify your thoughts or muddle them. So, what words not to use in an essay? Let’s find out!

Common Words Not to Use in Essays

Throughout my extensive experience as an IB writer, I’ve realized the importance of word choice in academic essays. The difference between good and excellent work often lies in the writer’s ability to avoid certain common but ineffective words and phrases. Such terms can significantly weaken the strength and clarity of your arguments. Here’s a more comprehensive list of words to never use in an essay:

  • Very. This word is often unnecessary and can make your writing seem less confident. For example, instead of saying “very big,” use “immense” or “substantial.”
  • Things. This word is too vague and can often be replaced with more specific terms. For instance, instead of “things,” specify what you’re talking about — “factors,” “elements,” “aspects,” etc.
  • Always/Never. Absolute terms can undermine your argument because they don’t allow for exceptions. Academic writing usually requires a more nuanced view.
  • A lot. This phrase is too general. Consider more precise quantifiers or descriptors.
  • Stuff. Similar to “things,” it’s a vague word that does not contribute to clarity or precision in your writing.
  • In my opinion. While it’s sometimes necessary to state something as your opinion, it’s often better to present the statement as a fact and back it up with evidence.
  • Actually/Basically/Essentially. These filler words are often redundant and don’t add value to your writing.
  • Literally. Such a word is often misused and can make your writing less credible. Use it only if you mean it in the truest sense.
  • Just. This word can make your statements seem less significant. It’s often unnecessary and can be removed without altering the meaning of your sentence.
  • Kind of/Sort of. These phrases suggest uncertainty. Be bold and direct in your assertions.
  • Some. This word can be too ambiguous at times. Be specific in your claims or descriptions.
  • In conclusion/To sum up. While concluding your essays is essential, these phrases can feel redundant. Instead, start your conclusion with a summary of your main points or a restatement of the thesis.
  • Obviously/Clearly. These words can come across as dismissive or assuming that the reader has the same understanding or viewpoint.
  • Really. Like “very,” it’s an intensifier that often adds little value. Instead, choose a stronger adjective.
  • Totally/Completely. These absolutes can close down the nuance in your argument. Acknowledging degrees of certainty or evidence is often more accurate in academic writing.
  • Thing. Try to be more specific about what you’re referring to.
  • Got. In most cases, more precise verbs can be used instead of “got.”
  • Much/Many. These can be replaced with more specific quantifiers.
  • Irregardless. It’s a non-standard word often used in place of “regardless.” Stick with “regardless” for formal writing.
  • Like. When used as a filler or in a comparative sense, “like” can be informal and vague.
  • Numerous/Several/Various. Where possible, give specific numbers or details.
  • On the other hand. While helpful in showing contrast, it can become repetitive. Consider varying your transition phrases.
  • Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly. These can be helpful for organizations but can also feel overly formal or clunky. Try to use them sparingly.
  • Therefore/Thus. Useful for conclusions, but overuse can make your writing sound overly formal or rigid.
  • In order to. Often, simply saying “to” is sufficient and more concise.
  • Perhaps/Maybe. These words can introduce uncertainty into your arguments. Be as specific and decisive as possible.
  • Due to the fact that. Such a phrase is often overly wordy. “Because” or “since” works just as well.
  • In addition to. While it’s a useful transitional phrase, it can be overused. Look for other ways to indicate addition or continuation.
  • Despite the fact that. It’s usually more straightforward and precise to say “although” or “even though.”

These are all common words not to use in an essay. Avoiding these phrases will help you write more effectively and persuasively. It’s all about being specific and confident in your writing. Remember, every word you choose has power, so select options that strengthen your arguments and convey your ideas.

what words not to use in an essay

Words to Avoid in an Argumentative Essay

In argumentative essays, which aim to persuade the reader with logic and reason, specific phrases can undermine your argument or detract from its persuasiveness. So, which words should not be used in this essay? Here is a list:

  • Undoubtedly. This word can imply a level of certainty that may not be justifiable and can dismiss potential counterarguments without proper consideration.
  • Irrefutably. Like “undoubtedly,” this term suggests an absolute certainty that might be unrealistic in a complex argument.
  • Some people say, Many believe. These phrases can introduce a generalization without specific sources, weakening your argument.
  • Most, All. Generalizing terms like these can weaken your argument by failing to consider exceptions or opposing viewpoints.
  • Seems, Appears. These words can suggest uncertainty or lack of confidence in your argument.
  • Everybody knows. This phrase assumes a consensus that might not exist and can undermine your credibility if the assumed consensus is not as widespread as claimed.
  • Of course/Needless to say. Such phrases can come off as assuming or dismissive of other viewpoints.
  • So-called. This term can imply skepticism or doubt, which might not be appropriate depending on the context and the stance you are arguing.
  • Simply, Merely. These words can oversimplify complex issues or arguments, which might not do justice to the topic’s complexity.
  • Fail to. This phrase can imply a negative connotation or a missed expectation, which might not be suitable for a balanced argument.
  • Problematic. While applicable in specific contexts, it can be overused or vague if not clearly explained why something is problematic.
  • Evidently/Manifestly. These words imply something is obvious, which might not be the case for readers or the argument itself.

Every phrase you choose carries weight in an argumentative essay. Using precise, clear, and measured language is critical to constructing a compelling and credible argument. With the list of words to not use in an essay, you can present your argument more thoughtfully and effectively.

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Biased or Subjective Language in Essay Writing

One of the main foundations of academic writing is the capacity to convey a balanced and objective viewpoint. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong viewpoint or argument; your arguments should be based on research, facts, and logical reasoning, not personal opinions or unsubstantiated beliefs.

Using prejudiced language might unintentionally alienate your readers, especially if they do not share your beliefs. It is critical to recognize many sides of an argument and treat competing viewpoints.

Moreover, in the IB context, demonstrating an awareness of your potential biases and actively working to present a balanced argument can be a distinguishing factor in your writing. It involves carefully choosing neutral and objective words and avoiding emotionally charged or judgmental terms.

For example, instead of saying, “The new policy on school uniforms is absurd,” you might say, “The new policy on school uniforms may be challenging for some students due to its lack of flexibility.” This rephrasing removes the emotional bias from the statement and opens the door to a more nuanced discussion.

Additionally, using objective language helps construct a more persuasive argument. When your writing is free from subjective bias, readers will trust your analysis and consider your viewpoint seriously. Remember, in argumentative essays, your goal is to convince the reader through the strength of your arguments, not through the force of your opinions.


Now you know all the words you shouldn’t use in an essay. Choosing the right ones in your writing can make a significant difference. Avoiding certain words and phrases, as discussed, can help strengthen your arguments and improve the overall quality of your academic writing. Remember, word choice is a skill that develops over time, but with practice and attention, you’ll master it! And if you need help with academic writing, just contact our experts.

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