CompFAQ/Vague Language

From Gerald R. Lucas
📝 English Composition Writing FAQ 11011102📖

Avoid Vague and Weak Language

Vague or weak language refers to words or phrases that lack specificity and clarity, making it difficult for readers to understand your meaning. Here are some tips to help you avoid using vague or weak language in your writing:

Use concrete nouns: Concrete nouns refer to things that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or heard. Using concrete nouns instead of abstract ones makes your writing more vivid and specific.

Example of weak language: I saw a thing on the ground.
Example of strong language: I saw a broken glass bottle on the ground.

Use strong verbs: Strong verbs convey action and make your writing more engaging. Avoid using passive verbs like “is” or “was” unless they are necessary.

Example of weak language: The weather was bad yesterday.
Example of strong language: The storm raged yesterday.

Avoid vague adjectives and adverbs: Vague adjectives and adverbs don’t add much meaning to your writing and can be replaced with more descriptive alternatives.

Example of weak language: She was very happy.
Example of strong language: She was ecstatic.

Be specific: Use specific details to provide a clear and accurate picture of what you are describing.

Example of weak language: The car was nice.
Example of strong language: The shiny red sports car was a thing of beauty.

By avoiding vague or weak language, your writing will become more precise, engaging, and persuasive.

Weak Constructions

Here are some additional stylistically weak constructions, some of which are detailed in separate entries, that you should avoid in your writing:

Passive voice: Using the passive voice can make your writing sound weak and impersonal. Instead, use active voice to make your writing more direct and engaging.

Weak: The ball was thrown by John.
Strong: John threw the ball.

Redundancy: Using unnecessary words or phrases can weaken your writing and make it less concise.

Weak: He gave a speech that was quite interesting.
Strong: He gave an interesting speech.

Clichés: Using overused expressions can make your writing sound unoriginal and uninspired.

Weak: When it rains, it pours.
Strong: The situation became worse as more problems arose.

Generalizations: Making broad statements without providing specific examples or evidence can weaken your argument and make your writing less persuasive.

Weak: Everyone knows that climate change is a serious problem.
Strong: Climate change is a serious problem that is supported by a vast body of scientific evidence.

Hedging: Using language that suggests uncertainty or doubt can make your writing sound weak and unconvincing.

Weak: I think that the data might suggest that there is a correlation.
Strong: The data clearly indicates a strong correlation between these two variables.

“I think” statements also weaken an argument because they suggest uncertainty or a lack of confidence in one’s own ideas, or betray a lack of evidence. Other similar structures or phrases that can weaken an argument include:

  • “I believe”
  • “It seems to me that”
  • “In my opinion”
  • “To the best of my knowledge”
  • “As far as I’m concerned”
  • “I’m not sure, but”
  • “I may be wrong, but”
  • “I’m no expert, but”

To avoid weakening an argument, use direct, confident language that presents your ideas as firmly supported and credible.

Written: 2002, 2022; Revised: 04-12-2023; Version: Beta 0.7 💬