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verbal crutch whatwoulddadsayDeveloping a professional business communication etiquette is crucially important for effective business writing. Have you reviewed your style to make sure it’s as professional as you want to be perceived?

Two years ago, I fractured my tibia, was put into a “boot” and ordered not to put any weight on my leg for six weeks. Not one to remain immobile, I employed crutches for the first time. After readjusting the fit and getting past the obvious annoyances, I found I could move around quite adroitly, even maneuvering stairs with relative ease. The crutches became second nature and I never gave them much thought again until the day the physical therapist instructed me to start putting weight on my leg. I had to learn to walk on my own without the aid of the crutches. While I enjoyed my regained freedom, it was a challenge to let go of something that had propped me during a time of need.

We often employ crutches in our professional writing and aren’t aware of it. One area many of us struggle with is words. We tend to use unnecessary words. These are called crutch words.

Crutch words are words we slip into sentences to give ourselves more time to think or to emphasize a statement. Over time, they become unconscious verbal tics. Crutch words usually do not add meaning to a statement. Do you find yourself using any of these crutch words in your writing or speaking?

Actually – Actually is the perfect example of a crutch word. It is meant to signify something that exists in reality, but it is often used to add punch to a statement (as in, “I actually have no idea”).

Honestly – This crutch word is used to assert authority or express incredulity, as in, “Honestly, I have no idea why he said that.” However, it very rarely adds honesty to a statement.

Like – This one is the cardinal sinner of lazy words. Like is often interspersed in dialogue to give a speaker more time to think or because the speaker cannot shake the habit of using the word. It’s another form of “um.” Have you ever overheard a typical teenager speak? If so, you’ve probably heard a lot of extra ‘like’s thrown in that don’t help or enhance the conversation. (“Like, I was like going to campus to, like, buy my books for my Chem class, when I, like, ran into Stacy and she, like, told me she was in the same section.” )

Literally – This adverb should be used to describe an action that occurs in a strict parksandrecreation-chris-traeger-literallysense. Often, however, it is used inversely to emphasize a hyperbolic or figurative statement: “I literally ran 300 miles today.” Literally is one of the most famously used crutch words in English (and recently most overused by Rob Lowe’s character on the TV series “Parks and Recreation”).

Basically – This phrase is used to signal truth, simplicity and confidence, like in “Basically, he made a bad decision.” It should signify something that is fundamental or elementary, but too often, this word is used in the context of things that are far from basic in order to create a sense of authority and finality, eg. “I basically went to the store.”

In business communications, we spend a great deal of time crafting messages and honing the right words. Keep your words clean, simple and clear. If you can throw away the verbal crutches and stand on the weight of your well-crafted message, you’ll increase your credibility in professional communication.

And you won’t have to like, um, literally worry about it anymore, basically.