Choose specific, descriptive words when you are making any statement on the GRE. Vague language weakens your writing because it forces the reader to guess what you mean instead of concentrating fully on your ideas and style.

WEAK: Mr. Brown is highly educated.
FORCEFUL: Mr. Brown has a master’s degree in business administration.

WEAK: She is a great communicator.
FORCEFUL: She speaks persuasively.

Notice that sometimes to be more specific and concrete, you will have to use more words than you may otherwise with vague language (as in the first example). This principle is not in conflict with the general objective of writing concisely. Being concise may require eliminating unnecessary words. Avoiding vagueness may require adding necessary words to illustrate your point.

1. Exercise: Reduce vague language

Edit these sentences by reducing the vague language.

The principal told John that he should not even think about coming back to school until he changed his ways.


The principal told John that he could not return to school until his behavior improved.

2. The police detective had to seek the permission of the lawyer to question the suspect.


The police detective had to ask the lawyer for permission to question the suspect.

3. Thousands of species of animals were destroyed when the last ice age occurred.


Thousands of animal species were destroyed in the last ice age.

4. The secretary was unable to complete the task that had been assigned.


The secretary was unable to type the document.

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