6 easy ways to de-fluff your writing (and why you should)

How-To-de-fluff-writing
Fluff belongs on bunnies and kittens - there's no place for it in business writing

Can you remember back to your school days? You’ve been set a 10,000-word essay and you’ve got to 9,756. You’ve run out of content ideas, so you pad it out with fluff.

You know the stuff I mean – long sentences which add no value, unnecessary words sneaked in here and there. That was fine when you were 15, but now you’re an adult out in the world of business, fluff is not your friend.

Why?

Because, when you pack copy with fluff your message gets lost, it wastes your readers time and they may get bored and stop reading altogether. That means lost customers and lost sales. 

So, when you’re writing customer-facing copy, fluff must be eliminated to make your message fluent, engaging and clear. 

Here’s a list of 6 easy ways to spot fluff and get rid of it

Big words
If you need to look a word up in the dictionary, don’t use it. Around 60% of your words need to contain 6 letters or less. You need to connect to customers quickly – not show them how smart you are. This doesn’t mean you’re dumbing it down. It means you’re speaking to your audience in the best way you can to engage them. A thesaurus is a handy tool for finding other words. If you don’t have a printed copy, most word processing software has a built-in version.

Inflated words
When we speak we use common words, but when we write we become formal, using ‘fancy’ words where a simple one would be more natural. This type of fluff is similar to big words, but inflated words aren’t necessarily big. 

Here are some examples of inflated words and the words to use instead:

  • Utilise = use
  • Facilitate = help
  • Commence = start
  • Cease = stop
  • Endeavour = try

Using inflated words devalues their meaning and damages trust, so find them and change them.

Jargon
Using jargon is when we use long phrases where one word will do. They’re cumbersome, interrupt the flow and make it hard for the reader to grasp the meaning of the sentence.

Read this sentence (the jargon is in italics):

Owing to the fact that a large number of staff are behind schedule on this project, we need to face up to the fact that in the event of it not being completed on time, we won’t get paid our bonus.

Now look at this simpler version with the jargon changed:

As many staff are late on this project, we need to accept if it isn’t finished on time, we won’t get paid our bonus.

OK, so that’s probably an extreme example, but you can see the second version is much easier to read.

Adjectives
Adjectives are useful to describe what something looks like, but adding them to make something sound good is a big no-no.

Which of these sentences would you trust?

Version 1:

As well as all the brilliant traditional features you’d expect, the sensational Golf GTI is packed with amazing modern technology to make it the best car ever.

Version 2:

As well as all the traditional features you’d expect, the Golf GTI is packed with modern technology to make driving easier and safer.

If you read the first version out loud, you’d probably be shouting and exaggerating the adjectives (think Barry Scott with his Cillit Bang ads). Readers are bored with these types of adjectives and generally don’t trust them. Remove them and let the facts speak for themselves. 

Intensifiers
These are words which emphasise other words to make them stronger or weaker, such as ‘very’, ‘extremely’ and ‘really’. Often, they’re unnecessary, or another word can be used in their place. 

Example 1:

This car has the very latest technology.

The latest means it’s the most recent of all, so the word ‘very’ is unnecessary. There are no varying degrees of latest.

Example 2:

The pie is extremely nice.

In this example changing the word ‘nice’ to the stronger word ‘delicious’ removes the need for ‘extremely’;  the pie is delicious.

Fillers
There are some words we don’t need in our writing, but we put them in without thinking. Words like ‘that’, ‘even’, ‘really’, ‘such’, ‘just’ and ‘quite’.

Read these sentences as they are, then read them again without the words in italics:

  • There are some words that we don’t need.
  • You can remove filler words if you really try.
  • Just is another word you just don’t need.
  • It’s quite clear removing filler words makes your writing better. 

In these examples, removing the filler word doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence, it makes it more succinct. 

Edit edit edit

Write your first draft, then go through it looking at steps 1-6, one at a time. Analyse every word – is it needed, can you still make the same point without it? Identify the fluff and eliminate it. Then check it again. And again.

When you’ve done this, your copy will be clean and slick, and your message loud and clear.

Can you spot any other fluff I haven’t mentioned? 

Please leave a comment. Feedback is a gift.

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