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How to Identify and Avoid Slang in Your English Writing


We all come across slang on a daily basis. We say it in the streets, hear it on television, and post it in Tweets and Facebook messages. We tend to use slang with our friends because it is fun, easy and can come across as very casual. Slang often flows naturally out of our mouths because it is part of our personalities and culture. A few places we do not want to use slang, however, is in business correspondences, academic papers, and presidential speeches.

What is Slang?

Slang is any words or phrases that society might consider informal or too casual. In most forms of English writing, slang is considered unprofessional. We tend to hear slang "out in the streets" more often than we see inside a newspaper or book.

Slang is often localized to particular areas of the world. It spreads commonly via the spoken word, so cultural dialects and phrases often get mixed in with slang. Slang can consist of words that have more than one meaning and can be easily confused with other words. Examples include words such as dude, ain't, kid (noun), bail (the non-jail verb), cram (study), awesome, fire (verb) and how come (why).

Phrases that we might consider cliché might also sound like slang. Examples include you nailed it, at the end of the day and ripped off (stolen from). Contractions such as can't and don't are often considered slang as well in the business world.

Unless you have a purpose to use slang, apply the rules of plain English writing and remove slang from your document, especially if your readers are business or academic professionals.

Here are a few reasons why you need to avoid slang:
  1. Slang can be localized to a specific area and cause confusion to readers who live elsewhere.
  2. Slang evolves quickly and may not have the same impact five or 10 years later.
  3. Slang is largely considered unprofessional, especially when it is written.
  4. Slang can have multiple meanings, causing confusion or offending your readers.
When writing professional documents, your document must be clear and concise and not muddled with poor wording.

Tips for Avoiding Slang

The best way to avoid slang is to keep your audience in mind. You've probably heard this age-old rule: write as though you are speaking before a group of executives with whom you are trying to impress. Keep your language simple and concise yet explain everything without resorting to language or phrasing that might confuse and alienate your readers.

Usually reading your drafted correspondence out loud helps. Any word or phrase that sounds too casual or informal may clue you in on instances of slang. Proofreading your document more than once also helps. Proofread as though you are a complete stranger to your correspondence. Make note of anything that seems unclear and strike out any possible slang.

Take your time during the writing process. If you know you commonly use slang, then hone in on the choice of words that you use to construct a coherent sentence. Double check your contractions since these are easily glossed over while proofreading. If you are unsure of how to rephrase something, then consult a thesaurus.

Before and After Examples

These before and after examples can aid you in spotting slang and removing it from your writing.

Slang: The kid ripped off a hundred bucks.
Non-slang: The child stole a hundred dollars.
Slang: The man was nailed for stealing the car.
Non-slang: The man was convicted for stealing the car.
Slang: I can't handle cramming for tests.
Non-slang: I cannot handle studying for tests at the last minute.

Remember, if ever in doubt—proofread. Proofreading is the answer for improving your writing skills. The more you proofread, the more you view your writing objectively and spot mistakes. In business, every word counts.



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