Proposal Crutch Words – What They Are and Why You Should Avoid Them


Many of us are familiar with crutch words in speech—those filler words that give us more time to think about our response or next point. Common crutch words we may use when we talk include:

  • umm
  • like
  • er
  • ah
  • right
  • and
  • so
  • anyway
  • okay
  • well
  • like I was saying
  • I guess
  • you know.

In oral proposals, we commonly practice our presentations and questions responses while minimizing these crutch words. This is because crutch words quickly become distracting to the evaluators and detract from our main points.

But did you know that we tend to use crutch words in our proposal writing as well? You may have heard crutch words called by other names—fluff, filler words, or weasel words. However, these all refer to the same bad habit of cluttering and diluting our message. In this week’s blog, I’ll review some common proposal writing crutch words and present some strategies from removing these from your text.

Avoid Words That Indicate Quantity But Lack Precision

Some common crutch words we use in proposals are adjectives, adverbs, nouns, or verbs that indicate quantity or intensity but lack precision. We tend to use these words when we don’t have the exact information readily available, or because we want to add emphasis. However, using these words will only dilute your message, so you should try to avoid using them in your proposal text. Some examples of these common crutch words include:

  • a lot
  • many
  • few
  • several
  • very
  • really
  • extremely
  • nearly
  • almost
  • quite
  • totally
  • slightly

Replace these weak crutch words with actual numbers, metrics, and measurements. For example, instead of: “Our solution saves the Government a lot of money,” specify how much the Government will save: “Our HVAC, lighting, and water system efficiencies reduce the Government’s annual energy costs by $500,000.”

Avoid Unnecessary Adverbs, Which Can Obscure Your Points Rather Than Support Them

Adverbs make up another category of common crutch words. An adverb is a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, another adverb, or a word group. The adverb typically expresses a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. In the professional writing world, adverbs are the hallmark of a lazy writer. What’s more, in proposals, certain adverbs can obscure a point rather than support it, so you should take care to eliminate these unnecessary and problematic adverbs from your proposal writing. Some examples are:

  • truly
  • honestly
  • just
  • almost
  • basically
  • actually
  • definitely
  • literally
  • essentially
  • absolutely
  • seriously
  • obviously
  • certainly
  • probably
  • basically
  • virtually

Similar to imprecise words of magnitude, we tend to use adverbs to add emphasis to our writing. However, using these words can actually dilute, or worse, discredit your message. For example, using “truly” and “honestly” can come across as insincere, or can cause the evaluator to contemplate why you felt the need to emphasize your truthfulness or honestly in this case and not others. So as a rule, you should try to avoid using unnecessary adverbs in your proposal text.

Avoid Clichés, Which Can Make Your Text Seem Trite

A third category of common proposal crutch words are clichés. Clichés are overused words that have lost meaning and/or effectiveness. The word cliché stems from the French word for the sound of a printing plate, which prints the same thing over and over. Clichés tend to become crutch words for us in our proposal writing, yet they add little to no value, often come across as trite, and can even signal to evaluators that you haven’t put much thought into your narrative. Watch out for these words and try to eliminate or reduce your use of them in your proposal text. Examples include:

  • best-in-class
  • industry-leading
  • right-size
  • cutting edge
  • world class
  • raising the bar
  • reinventing the wheel
  • hard and fast
  • last but not least
  • thinking outside the box

Similar to imprecise words and unnecessary adverbs, removing clichés from your proposals will declutter your writing and strengthen your overall message.

Final Thoughts

Proposal writing is certainly an art, and even the best writers find themselves falling into the trap of using crutch words. However, crutch words tend to lack precision, obscure the message, and can come across as trite and even lazy. By knowing your own crutch words, you can search for them in your writing and replace them with more precise and meaningful language. You can also keep a list of common crutch words that your team tends to use. Have your editors search for these crutch words during the editing process and revise the text to eliminate or reduce their use. Reducing or eliminating the use of common crutch words will strengthen the writing, making it clearer and more compelling to the evaluators. This will enable evaluators to focus on and find the content that addresses the evaluation criteria—and help them to score you higher.  


Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP

Director, Quality and Performance Center of Excellence

Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)






  1. Ashley, excellent blog post. Thanks!

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