Danger words and phrases lead writers into treacherous terrain.
Use them wisely.
Here are words and phrases to be wary of.
- "This paper/section explores..."
For readers, this word can act as a signal to fast forward. It says, "Here comes a whole bunch of exploration that may or may not lead anywhere." Instead, you could share the end point of your exploration with the reader: you propose something, explain it, describe it, document it, test it, compare it...and so on.
- "This paper attempts to...."
It must be said: honesty is praiseworthy. But how do readers feel when they see the phrase? And can writers be sure that having the option to invoke the phrase doesn't make it more tempting to cut corners?
- "It is obvious/clear that..."
If it were so obvious or clear, you could probably just show it. After all, we don't need to go around saying "It is obvious the sky is blue"--we can just point and the blueness is apparent. If you still find yourself insisting something is clear or obvious, a good question to ask yourself is, "What makes it so?"
"It is important to..."
The word important is often used by writers deep in a section or paragraph to wake up the dozing reader. It's as if the writer is waving at the reader saying, "Right here, this spot! Pay attention to it!" But many readers, especially those who skim, will miss such signposting. Instead, consider restructuring your section or paragraph in a way that lets the reader easily see the most important messages. And anyway, if something is so important, what's it doing in the third sentence of paragraph 20?
- "We are the first to... to the best of our knowledge."
This is an awkward message: the first part is taking a super-strong position and the second part is trying to tone it down a bit. The juxtaposition is awkward. A more graceful strategy may be to show the reader how you are the first to do something.
Image by By Wing-Chi Poon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons