I hate that word. Not when it’s used in the sense of “I wish the world were a just and equitable place.” Nope, I have no problem with it there. My problem is with the common student usage, as in, “So, I just have to fix this one paragraph? (unstated: and you’ll give me the A my paper so richly deserves).” When someone uses “just” in that sense, s/he’s basically asking, “What’s the minimum I can do here?” And that’s so totally the wrong question, especially when it comes to revising papers. Okay, I admit, it’s the totally wrong approach to much of life, but I’m talking about student essays here, so indulge me, please.
Typically, when I talk to students about revising their papers, they’ll start with the “just” question and I’ll call them on it, and explain what “just” sounds like. They’ll stop, and start over again, and use “just” once again. And I’ll call them on that. It usually takes two or three tries before they’re convinced that using “just” isn’t going to work. Having to restart their thinking two or three times actually makes them think a bit more about what their language choices say to their audience, and how important that is.
I should add “just” to my list of student don’ts.