The importance of being stingy with the word “important”…

One way to improve your writing — please banish the word “importance” and all its variations from your vocabulary. Every once in a while the word and its cohorts might have a place, but for the most part it is empty and it says absolutely nothing.

Instead of CLAIMING value for a finding (or whatever else you are saying is important), DEMONSTRATE it.

Example from a client:

  • In addition, all three pedagogical projects are characterized by an articulated personal investment in the process. The importance of an articulated personal investment in the material was characteristic of all three pedagogical projects.

Which I changed to:

  • We all used a variety of approaches to enunciating or deflecting attention away from elements of our identities as a part of the pedagogical project.

This not only eliminated the word “important,” it also eliminated a lot of excess verbiage.

A variation, using one of the “cohorts” of “important”:

  • Documenting these experiences, challenges, and our reflections on them, using detailed portraits, is a major contribution to the field.

Which I changed to:

  • Documenting these experiences, challenges, and our reflections on them, using detailed portraits, revealed new insights into the body as text in the classroom.

Notice how “revealed new insights” makes clear what the contribution is, DEMONSTRATING the contribution, rather than merely CLAIMING it.

Now obviously there are going to be times when the word or similar words are appropriate. Another example from the same author:

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged as an important theme among the cases.

An interchangeable word would have been “significant” or “major.” But there’s another word that I believe serves the purpose better: “salient.” “Salient” means “most noticeable.” It has a more specific connotation than “important.” In this case the word “important” wouldn’t be wrong, but rather not quite as precise as “salient.”

Here is an occasion where the word “important” fits:

  • Similarly, I find sharing my experiences as a student to be very important, particularly for students of color.

Still, another way to say it would be:

  • Similarly, I find sharing my experiences as a student to be very helpful to others, particularly for students of color.

It is the “helpfulness” of the sharing that makes it important.

Another:

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged as an important theme among the cases.

This is one I’ve let slide by. But consider this instead:

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged repeatedly throughout the interviews.

or

  • Language and self-identification regarding sexual orientation and gender expression emerged as a constant theme throughout the interviews.

These latter two, though only slightly different from the original, still avoid the repetition of the word. Most important (grin), is that it reserves the word important to be used when it truly is important!

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