Negative Words to Avoid in Writing

In academic and business writing, it is important to accentuate the positive. Here are some tips on avoiding negative words.

Words to Avoid

If you want a positive response to your memo or report, then do not use negative words. Pointing out problems and belittlingpeople will not be helpful.

Some negative words to avoid in writing are:

cannot, damage, do not, error, fail, impossible, little value, loss, mistake, not, problem, refuse, stop, unable to, and unfortunately

Here are some examples of what not to say:

  • These reports are of little value and are causing problems in the office.
  • Don’t use an A-12 form when reporting absences.
  • The project cannot be completed because some people are not doing their jobs.

Words to Include

Your purpose in writing needs to be on the solution, not the problem. All communication needs to sound collaborative and positive, and instructions need to be clear and tell the reader what to do, rather than what not to do.

Positive words to use include:

benefit, it is best to, issue, matter, progress, success, unfortunate, and valuable

Here are the positive ways to write the formerly negative examples:

  • Thank you for discussing the letters. As we agreed, the letters will now have…
  • Use form A-24 when you report absences.
  • We must get everyone’s data by Thursday to complete the project on time.

Other Ways to Write Effectively

Writing needs to focus on the concrete, not the vague or abstract. Instead of saying, “I feel’ or “I believe”, just tell it like it is.

Use action words like:

work, improve, complete, succeed, and use

Using the active voice in writing makes the text concise, understandable, and strong.

Here are some examples of active and passive voice:

  • Active:  The department increased sales.
  • Passive: Sales were increased by the department.


  • Active: Employees need to wear safety glasses.
  • Passive: Safety goggles need to be worn by employees.

See how the active voice is less wordy, easier to understand, and has more impact? You will get a better response if the reader understands and you are clear and precise.

Write clearly by using short sentences that don’t have extra phrases, commas, or parentheses. Keep your language simple and don’t use big words when a simpler one will do. Replace long, wordy phrases with one word whenever possible.

Here are some examples:

  • as of this date = from
  • by means of = by
  • so as to = so
  • in the event that = if
  • at the present time = now
  • for the purpose of = of

Writing Courteously

One good way of getting a positive response to a letter, report, or memo, is to be courteous. Being courteous is not just about saying “please” and “thank you.”  It is also the tone of your writing. Here are some things to think about so that your writing is received in a good light:

  • Thank people for their contribution or work.
  • Acknowledge emails and letters.
  • Try to sound neutral rather than confrontational.
  • Focus on the positive and write using positive words.
  • Don’t use the word “you” as it can sound like an attack.
  • Show you care.
  • Soften bad news by leading up to it.
  • Don’t demand, rather start sentences with “I want” or “I would like”.

Lastly, explain problems by introducing them using words like: somewhat, rather, slight, or a little. This will minimize them so you don’t sound like an alarmist.

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