Going back to the “well” (another post about clutter words)

cowOne of the key steps in graduating from intermediate writing to professional-quality writing is getting rid of clutter. I’ve previously posted about this subject in general terms, but today I shall discuss a specific overused word: well.

There’s no need to say someone is “well organized” or an endeavor was “well worth it.” A person is organized or disorganized. Attempting to achieve a goal is worth it or not. The one true way to eliminate clutter is to ask, “Does this word add meaning?” The only purpose “well” serves in the above examples is to dull the impact of the statement. It adds no meaning.

In this context, some words are neutral and can be clarified with “well,” such as “well written.” Saying a book is “written” explains nothing about quality. Telling a waiter that you want your steak “done” won’t get you any closer to your goal of filling your belly with cow meat.

That said, “well written” is bland description of a book. We writers can do better than that, can’t we?

And while we’re lowering the bucket, “well written,” “well known,” and “well done” do not need hyphens, unless preceding or otherwise modifying a noun.

 ♦

Examples of correct hyphen usage for well known:

Godzilla is well known to the urban-planning committee in Tokyo.

Hannibal Lecter is a well-known bachelor.

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Examples of correct hyphen usage for well written:

Besides the misspelling, Norman’s “Mohter” tattoo was well written.

You probably think this is a well-written blog post, though you are likely to revise that thought and say it is an expertly written post, remembering that you don’t need the hyphen when your noun is modified by an “ly” word.

 ♦

Examples of well done:

“Pa Ingalls, is your well done yet?”

“Nope, still digging.”

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It was this or Blink 182. I chose this.

 

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