Why the word ‘significant’ is anything but

The overused modifier is clogging up your copy without adding much value for the reader. Try these alternatives to this hackneyed term.

How many times per day do you see the word “significant” in corporate communications?

  • “Significant findings…”
  • “Significant growth…”
  • “Significant work…”
  • “Significant challenges…”
  • “Significant change…”
  • “Significant consequences…”

Do you even notice it anymore? The word is used so frequently—in everything from LinkedIn profiles to press releases and annual reports—that it’s lost its meaning.

As any graphics design professor would say: If you bold everything on a page, nothing is bolded. If everything is described as “significant,” nothing is “significant.”

(The exception comes when when you are describing statistical significance. Statistical significance has a separate meaning, best defined here.)

Instead of using “significant” to describe the importance or seriousness of something, be specific and explicit. Explain why something is “significant.” Define what you mean by “significant.”

Below are a few examples:

Significant findings (What made the findings important?)

Unexpected findings; controversial findings; unexplained findings; never-before-seen findings; findings that could lead to the creation of…

Significant growth (How much growth? What did the growth mean?)

Use your data to tell a story. A 20 percent jump in profits means one thing to a reader; a 30 percent decline in the number of web visitors means something else.

Describe how the changes will affect the reader: “This growth means employees will receive a bonus of…”

Significant work (Why was the work important?)

What aspects of the work were remarkable? If you want to emphasize a timeframe, you can talk about the “months of work” or the “yearlong project.” If the work’s goals were important, describe what the effort achieved.

Significant challenges

Try these phrases to elucidate the nature of the challenges:

  • Tight deadlines
  • Budget cuts
  • Employee turnover
  • Negative customer feedback
  • Systems malfunctions

Significant change (What was important about the change?)

Why does the change matter to the reader?

Here are some ways it could be presented:

  • This change affects 80 percent of employees.
  • This change means our customers will pay less.
  • The new applications are quicker, saving time for our customers.
  • Thanks to the upgrade, our online reservation system is now optimized for mobile devices.

Significant consequences (Describe the consequences)

Use the negative detail in contrast to a secured outcome to tell a story. What is the impact on the reader?

Here are some options:

  • Termination of employment
  • Could involve jail time
  • Multimillion-dollar fines
  • Loss of business

If you can’t provide details, try some of these alternatives to “significant”:

  • Compelling
  • Consequential
  • Considerable
  • Crucial
  • Meaningful
  • Momentous
  • Notable
  • Powerful
  • Serious
  • Sizable
  • Vital

Have any other alternatives to share, PR Daily readers?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her posts about writing and editing at impertinentremarks.com.

(Image via)


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.