Placebo words.

In the last year, we’ve had half a dozen writing interns at emdash. Much to my surprise, almost all of them go through a similar journey. They assume clients know what they want (LOL), they write so much in passive voice, they don’t care for document styling etc. In that list, I’m adding placebo words.

I’ve talked about precision and brevity before. Placebo words are same same but different.

Cloud is worse in terms of total cost of ownership.

When you read the above sentence, nothing immediately strikes as ‘wrong’. It makes sense, the reader walks away with information. However, it’s not powerful.

Consider this instead: The total cost of ownership is higher on the cloud.

Which do you prefer?

Placebo words come from everyday speech — like most of our writing these days. We use them to fill in the time it takes to think of things. We play with them to make do for the lack of editing time while speaking.

In writing, they’re unnecessary, imprecise and show the reader that you didn’t put in enough energy editing your work.

‘In terms of’ is just the beginning, and perhaps the least offensive of the lot. There’s ‘from the perspective of’ — I absolutely hate it. Cost, technology, performance and stability don’t have perspectives. Only people do.

These days we have the ‘standpoint’ and the ‘vantage point’ replacing the perspective (I think of the Ooty suicide point every time I read these phrases). College students say ‘with regards to’ a lot. Perhaps an academia thing. Also ‘with respect to’.

Next time you catch yourself using these placebo words, reconsider their place. Your writing will be better for it.