Phrases to avoid on the web

Jennifer Hamrick
Thursday 12 August 2021

During my time as a web content editor at St Andrews, I have picked up on certain phrases that are used frequently on our website that should actually be avoided where possible. These phrases are often unnecessary or confusing for the user.

Some examples include:

Please note

Example: ‘Please note, the University’s llama petting zoo is only available to current students.’

Why it stinks
If someone’s reading it, they’re already noting it. This phrase is a waste of space.

In the first instance

Example: ‘Please speak to your teacher in the first instance if you are interested.’

Why it stinks
Easily replaced by shorter phrases such as ‘First’ or ‘Firstly’. But more often than not, it’s not needed at all!

In order to

Example: ‘In order to register with a doctor, you will need your ID and term-time address.’

Why it stinks
Can always be replaced with simply ‘To’. Not concise.

You can

Example: “You can find more information on our support pages.”

Why it stinks
Start with the verb to make these sentences more concise and impactful.

Words used too much at St Andrews

I also tend to come across vague and lofty terms that don’t have any concrete meaning for the user if they are not contextualised. Examples include:

  • Interdisciplinary – many universities claim their courses are ‘interdisciplinary’, but what does this mean for the user? How will this benefit them? Exactly what disciplines are involved?
  • Cosmopolitan – it belongs on a bar menu, not a website.
  • Unique – everyone claims everything is ‘unique’ these days. Is it actually unique? What makes it unique? Show, don’t tell! The same applies for words like ‘Innovative’ and ‘Cutting-edge’ or ‘State of the art’.

Advice from UNC Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina’s Writing Center is a great resource for tips on writing concisely.

Here are some examples of advice from their pages:

  • Replace long phrases with a single word. For example, replace ‘The reason for’ with ‘Because’.
  • Avoid filler words.
  • Avoid using two words that mean the same thing. For example, “hopes and dreams” or ‘the whole entire planet’.

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