Betwixt Code and Music

Some Words Add Little Value

October 18, 20203 min read

As I traverse the roads of cyberspace I often see many articles, posts, and various other writings, as we all do. Sometimes the writing could be improved by removing a few choice words or making the writing simpler. I spend much of my work days reading over technical writing for software development. I see examples of these words fairly often. However, these observations can apply to all writing, not just technical writing.

As a preface, I do think rules are made to be broken. I tend to avoid these words in writing, but I guarantee that they pop into my speaking patterns at times. My musings here are not verboten words in my writing or anyone’s writing, only suggestions. Remember, only a Sith deals in absolutes.

1. Obviously

“In this spot we obviously need a fragment when returning multiple elements in JSX.”

In this sentence, the needed fragment is only obvious if someone is familiar with ReactJS. I wager that most of the population of the world would not be able to pick a JSX fragment out of a line up. If we can avoid this word, then we can help any newcomers to our sphere learn more quickly. I remember first learning JavaScript and hearing a speaker talk about something “obvious” – I had no idea what the concept was. Nevertheless, I persisted.

2. Honestly

“Honestly, I prefer using yarn over npm.”

When I was a band director in the long-ago times, I heard many a teenager utter this word. The tone of voice used with this sounded like they were trying to sound very intelligent. I would often interject with, “Were you not being honest with what you said just before that?” Let’s not preface each sentence with whether or not we are being truthful. That will make our conversations (and writing) difficult to understand. Leave off the word for better results.

3. Actually

“I tried using Eleventy, and I actually liked it.”

(Seems like we should avoid most adverbs, right? :laughing-emoji: Good eye! That suggestion is frequent advice to writers, but that’s a separate topic.)

This one sneaks by most people. In our example, the word “actually” implies that the verb it describes is the opposite of what was expected. I interpret sentences like the example with this inserted meaning:

"I tried using Eleventy
  (which I expected to be terrible),
    but I actually liked it."

Best to avoid this one most of the time.

4. Basically

“Basically you push your code to GitHub and the magic happens.”

I am guilty of using this as a filler word when speaking. It’s probably rare that the word will add any value to your writing or speaking. In the example sentence, using GitHub might not be “basic” to anyone. Many things are not “basic” to others like they are to the person saying it. It’s a filler word. Let’s lose it.

Let’s avoid this one, too.

5. Just

“To solve that problem, just add a useEffect to the component.”

Many people have been on the “remove ‘just’ from our vocabulary” train over the last few years. This word implies a sort of magical wave of a wand to solve a problem. In the example sentence, adding useEffect might not be a simple solution if a person doesn’t know what that means. It would be better to remove the word and provide a link to the docs that describe how to use the useEffect hook in React.

6. Even I

“I tried to solve the problem, but even I didn’t find a solution.”

I rarely hear native English speakers use this turn of phrase. I think it must be a translation issue from other languages to English (or vice versa). As a native English speaker, this reads like “I usually solve all problems, but not this one.” We can make this simpler (and more humble) by removing the word “even”.

Further Reading

As he often does, Chris Coyier over at CSS Tricks has written an excellent article with a similar slant on this topic. It’s worthy of your time, too!

Michael D. Mathew.

Written by Mike Mathew who lives and works in Dallas building useful things. Sometimes he posts.