2 min read

What the heck are Weasel Words?

Better, faster, generally, many, significantly, could, should, maybe, generally, many, more… What do all these words have in common? They are all “weasel words”.
brown and white weasel looking over the top of a branch
Photo by James Armes on Unsplash

Better, faster, generally, many, significantly, could, should, maybe, many, more… What do all these words have in common?

Question mark symbol made my a sparkler in dark corridor
Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

They are all “weasel words”.

This is a term coined by Amazon for words that just don’t mean anything and raise more questions than they answer. Let’s take faster…faster than what? Is that fast enough? What was the speed before? What were we aiming for? Is faster better? How is this impacting customers…? I could continue but I think you get my point.

Amazon has a list of these weasel words. Words that we use in everyday conversation. Adjectives. Descriptive words. These are the words that authors use frequently when they want to transport us somewhere in their books, and when used well can conjure up the most vivid mental images. In business writing, these words just don’t really mean as much, and just aren’t necessary.

One of my favourite weasel words to find in documents was “significant”, as I could ask so many questions seeking context and an explanation!

Good business writing, especially Amazon writing, should be crisp, concise, succinct, and to the point. The points you make need to be backed with data. Rather than saying, “a cheetah is fast”, it means more to your reader to say “a cheetah runs at a top speed of 75mph, 2.7 times faster than the fastest human runner”. The second sentence provides context and uses data to ensure understanding.

When we don’t have the exact data it is easier to generalise or use weasel words. They are a giveaway to your reader that you haven’t got the detail, and if presenting a document in Amazon, they make for easy questions which detract from your idea. It was one of my pet peeves when document reviewers would hone in on these details (and I believe they did this because they didn’t have any better questions to ask!) But these questions can quickly derail the document review and set a tone that it is hard to recover from.

What can you do?

  1. Read your document. Read it a lot, and get others to read it too. Read each sentence, and ask so what? Does this show an impact? Is it good or a needs improvement data point?
  2. Find the data. Rather than “around 50% of respondents said…”, go and find out exactly how many. “52% of the 78,904 respondents said…” is a lot more powerful!
  3. Find adjectives in your document. Hit Ctrl and F and search for the common offenders. Are the words adding value? Can you get more specific? If you delete them does anything change? (tip: However is usually a culprit here!)
  4. Evaluate the language you use. Most of us will have filler words we use often.
  5. Hunt out weasel words. Read other written documents. Grab a paper, go to medium, hunt out a business doc, and read them. Try and spot weasel words whenever you read. The better you get at identifying them, the more likely you are to be able to spot them!

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