We all – and I do mean ALL, even us! – fall into the trap of cluttering up our writing with unnecessary words or phrases. Sometimes it’s unconscious; sometimes it’s purposeful in an attempt to sound sophisticated or erudite. Either way, it’s important to be concise to get your point across effectively and retain your readers’ interest, especially in longer materials. Fluffing up your writing adds nothing to the content’s message or meaning, and instead distracts the impatient reader from what you are trying to communicate. This is especially true for business writing, whose purpose is to quickly and concisely package critical information meant to trigger some concrete response.
Below are some examples of fluffy writing and how to declutter. Also, check out the fun infographic from Grammarcheck.net at the end of the blog for some more helpful tips.
1. Streamline your words: Say although instead of “in spite of the fact that,” to or toward instead of “in the direction of,” because instead of “on account of the fact that,” at instead of “located at,” and so on. If it can be said in one word, use that one word instead of multiple words to get your point across.
2. Don’t kill your audience with details: It’s ok to add interest by being descriptive, but you don’t need to use 10 details when one or two will do! For instance, “Jim called his mom this morning to say ‘hi’,” is clearer and less time-consuming – and far less annoying – to read than “At 8 a.m., Jim pulled his phone out of his back right pocket and, using his left index finger, scrolled down to his mother’s number in his contacts. He hit on her number and waited through four rings until she picked up, after which he started the conversation by saying ‘Hi!’.” We bet you got bored half-way through the longer version, didn’t you?!
3. Remove ‘weak’ words: Stop using really or very. Also watch for therefore, because of, suddenly, in order to, actually, currently. Another point here – sharpen your descriptions to paint a picture; it’s the old’ “show, don’t tell” approach. For instance, “the concert was ear-splitting” instead of “the concert was really loud.” Or “the painting was lively, full of bright colors” rather than “the painting was beautiful.”
4. Eliminate redundancies: Here’s a great list of common redundancies we found that made us laugh…because we’ve totally used some of these terms!
· Baby puppy
· Future prospects
· Added bonus
· 2 a.m. in the morning
· Final outcome
· Completely devoid
· Honest truth
· Duplicate copy
5. Use “that” sparingly: We tend to use the word that way too often. Sometimes it is truly needed to introduce a crucial piece of information in a sentence, as in "Wine and beer are the newest products that will appear on our e-commerce site." But often that is used when it doesn't need to be. Here’s a hint – read the sentence out loud without the word that in it. If it still makes sense, keep it out; your sentence will flow much better. For example, “I understand that tomorrow will be hot, so it’s important that you carry water with you” will be less clunky written as: “I understand tomorrow will be hot, so it’s important to carry water with you.”
6. Take a stand. We all fall into the trap of qualifying our statements, perhaps in an attempt to seem less pushy or not to overpromise, especially in business materials. Unfortunately, this simply serves to make us seem weak or make our message ambiguous. Be confident! Say what you mean, without could, can, like, may, might, virtually, up to, as much as, believe, and possibly attached to your statement. And simply remove “I think that” from anything you write, ever. Obviously, you’re stating an opinion.
It’s time to go Marie Kondo on your writing! Keep your eyes open for the fluff, filler, and redundancies that clutter up your writing and replace those words or terms with succinct, strong, precise words that get your message across clearly and effectively. (For our Top 10 Tips for How to Write 'Right' for Business, check out this informative and entertaining video!)