Banish These Words By Karen Kelsky | October 26, 2012 Do not use the words “unique” or “burgeoning” in any of your job documents. They are painfully overused. The first is just trite. The second is over-dramatic. That is all. Similar Posts: Banish These Words, 2014 Banish These Words, 2016 Edition I-Me-My Adjectives Are Not Arguments, Part I How To Tailor a Job Letter (Without Flattering, Pandering, or Begging)
add: “black box.”
How about “novel,” as in “novel approach” (particularly if it’s true and not a platitude)?
I almost always say to remove, except in the hard sciences where this seems to be a “term of art” when applied to methodologies. In the humanities and social sciences I find it to be another of the adjectives that just feel trite (as i describe more in the blog post, This Christmas, Don’t Be Cheap). In general, it’s a working principle of mine that adjectives detract from your credibility rather than increase it.
Claire J says
Yes m’am! Obeying right away m’am!
Regarding ‘novel’: what if one’s approach is new to the discipline? for example large historical scope vs. narrow case studies. How would you make this come across clearly without excessive over dramatic ‘volume’ ?
[being a non-native speaker makes me always feel at lack of words, ending up in using too expressive words to compensate for the frustration]
What people don’t seem to grasp is that if your approach is actually as novel as you think, just describing it as a “study of large historical scope” that allows for xx yy and zz insights will SHOW that it is novel and valuable, without your using cheap adjectives to say it.
Why would you say cheap words? Do you mean that if I am as a non native speaker use words that are more complex, it will sound cheap?
This is nothing distinctive to non-native speakers, and indeed native speakers are just as likely—really more likely—to make this error of “cheap” adjectives. But basically adjectives that try to pump up the impact level are counter-productive, while factual descriptions are the most effective. “This is a completely original study that breaks new ground in an understudied field” is just filled with empty, breathless adjectives. While, “this study is the first in the field of xx to address yy from a zz perspective” stays entirely at factual claims, and is therefore highly persuasive to a search committee.
Enough said. I don’t even use them in my daily speech. And “ground-breaking.”
But what about for fellowship applications?
Linda Freed says
You are telling people what words not to use, and you used “basically”?
What about using “major breakthrough” when referring to your own work? (postdoc application in the sciences)
If it’s a cure for cancer, etc., sure. If not, no. I can’t judge it for you–only someone senior, reputable and reliable in your field can judge.