Problem Words and Expressions

Every officer should be familiar with and avoid the problem words on this list. Some are old-fashioned and unprofessional; others can cause errors.


This old-fashioned, time-wasting word needs to be stored permanently in the attic. Use “this” or, better yet, repeat the name or information.

The abovementioned suspect is now in custody. WRONG

Langford is now in custody. CORRECT


“Advise” refers to giving advice. If you use it that way, advise is a fine word. But don’t use it as a synonym for “tell.”

I advised her to seek medical attention for the cut on her arm. CORRECT

I advised her that I would be returning the next day.  WRONG

I told her that I would be returning the next day. CORRECT


“Affect” is a useful verb meaning “to change.” [Much less commonly it’s also a noun that means emotion.] So why should you avoid affect? Two reasons.

First is the risk of confusing affect and effect. Why take a chance? If you mean change, that’s the word you should write.

I couldn’t affect his decision, so I stopped arguing.  RISKY

I couldn’t change his decision, so I stopped arguing. BETTER

A more serious problem with affect is that it’s vague. It’s better to choose a word that indicates whether the change was for the better or the worse.

The new schedule affected morale.  VAGUE

The new schedule improved morale. BETTER

Rainy days always affect my mood.  VAGUE

Rainy days always make me feel gloomy. BETTER


“Yes” or “agreed” works better.

He answered in the affirmative.  CLUMSY

He said yes. BETTER

He agreed. BETTER


This clumsy word has two strikes against it. First, it’s archaic. Second, it doesn’t explain how you acquired the information. Better choices are “saw” or “heard.”

At the present time

Use “now” instead–or just leave it out. There’s no difference between “He’s now awaiting trial” and “He’s awaiting trial.”

Baker Acted (as in “I Baker Acted him.”)

This is police jargon and out of place in a professional report. Substitute “I started Baker Act proceedings” or “I took her into custody under the provisions of the Baker Act.”

Being that

Never use this clumsy expression. Use because instead.

[Incidentally, being is a perfectly good word that can, however, gum up a sentence. Use it with care.]

Blue in color

Professional writers avoid empty words. “In color” doesn’t add anything, so don’t use it.

The suspect was wearing a shirt that was blue in color.  EMPTY WORDS

The suspect was wearing a blue shirt. BETTER

By means of

Substitute “by.”


This is too vague for a professional report. In fact it could cause problems in court later on, if you forget exactly how you got in touch with the person. Be specific:

I phoned her. CORRECT

I visited him. CORRECT

I emailed her. CORRECT

I taped a note to his office door. CORRECT


Substitute “try.”


Substitute “hurry” or “speed up.”

For the purpose of

Substitute “for.”

I smelled alcohol on his breath

A defense attorney can get you on this one. Alcohol is odorless and tasteless. Say that you smelled “alcoholic beverage” on his breath.

If and when

Substitute “if,” which covers both words.

In close proximity to

Substitute “near.”

In order to

Substitute “to.”


Vague. Use homecondominiumapartmentmobile home.

The month of September

Same problem. When is September not a month?

They were married in the month of September.  EMPTY WORDS

They were married in September. BETTER

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