“Best Practices” and Other Dead Words

Dead words - everywhere you look

Your sales engineers request a paper on — dead words alert — “best practices” in enterprise backup and recovery.

Do you get an unpleasant feeling in your solar plexus when you hear “best practices?” A dullness or a fatigue maybe? Like the feeling you get when you look at how little tread is left on your tires, or at how the paint on your front door is chipping?

Dead words like “best practices”

My son’s eighth-grade teacher used to deduct points for using “dead words.” I applauded that, though I’d never heard the term “dead words” before. I asked my son about it.

“Basically,” he said, “Mrs. Correia doesn’t want us to use words like ‘very’ or ‘like’ or ‘many’ or ‘lots of’… words that don’t really add any value. She also doesn’t want us to, like, begin sentences with ‘basically.'”

Like basically, I agree. Inspired by Mrs. Correia’s example, and coming on the heels of my recent post about good turns of phrase, I want to get the dead words out of everything we write from now on.


Legions of us business writers have thought about this already, and there are probably thousands of blog posts and comment threads with lists of words to avoid in business writing.

Dead words can turn otherwise decent copy into fluff. If you want to make a science of it, collect the boilerplate paragraph from the press releases of middle-tier technology companies and lump them all onto a single Web site: vocabularyofnonsense.com.

Consider these:

  • Best practices – Why would we mention the worst practices? I think this expression is just tired. I was encouraged when a software engineer agreed with me about that in a meeting last week.
  • Solution – So overused in technology writing, “solution” is what we say when we can’t come up with a better word, and we don’t want to say “product.” Still, it’s in the top menu of almost every website, so it must mean something to somebody.
  • High-tech – There is no high technology anymore. It ended about 2001 when everybody got a computer.
  • Leading provider – You wouldn’t want to work with a trailing one, would you? Throw it away.
  • Today – As in “Today, IT professionals have more demands than ever on their time,” or “In today’s socially networked world…” Isn’t that always going to be true? Why write it?
  • Embrace – “Adopt” and “accept” are more accurate. If you’ve already used them fifteen times on that page, then use “embrace,” but not before then.

Runner-up dead words

Other words are less silly but nonetheless dead. Or dying, at least.

  • Resources – I don’t like this word, but it’s pretty hard to work around it. Usually, though, what we mean is “money,” so perhaps I should be more frank in the future.
  • Support – Long in the tooth, but another tough one to get around. If there were a better way to say “Windows 10 supports remote desktop management,” I’d use it.
  • Critical – As in “business-critical” or “mission-critical.” Pure hand-waving. Your readers have already decided to go through your paper. You don’t need to continue trying to convince them.
  • Operational excellence – I can’t even think of anything to say about that phrase. It’s just too glib and silly.

What’s on your list of dead words? How do you feel when you absolutely have to use them?

Or worse yet, when you replace them and some other reviewer puts them back in?

Like, basically, that’s another post.

photo credit: Garden State Hiker


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”