Filler words that clog up your copy

Keeping readers engaged requires diligent trimming. Here are words and phrases that savvy writers and editors should look for and remove.

Filler words to cut

Writers often put filler words in their writing without realizing it.

They add them either because it’s how they speak, or they are using a common phrase that they’ve seen others use. A lot of time, filler words are just the result of bad habits.

Writers tend to use more filler words when they are less confident about their subject or can’t express themselves well enough.

The No. 1 rule of communications is to make it easy for your reader to find your point. Filler undermines that purpose.

Take “that” out

In most cases “that” can be taken out to tighten up your sentences, and sentences always sound better without it. Luckily, in this age of technology, you can remove the pesky word easily by doing a find/replace within your word processing program.

Just say ‘no’ to modifiers and determiners

In most cases, modifiers and determiners are overused or used incorrectly. These gaffes make writers sound less confident, unclear and non-committal.

Use a modifier if it’s necessary to add specificity or detail to a sentence. Don’t use a modifier if you can remove it and the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change.

Some examples you can remove from your writing:

  • Just
  • Only
  • Always
  • Almost
  • Hardly
  • At first
  • Simply
  • Kind of
  • Sort of
  • Type of
  • Really
  • Basically
  • Definitely
  • Actually
  • Generally
  • Specific
  • Particular

Say it right the first time

Often writers want so desperately to get their point across, they say the same thing multiple times in slightly different ways in their sentences.

Better word choice can help eliminate this. Another thing to watch for is repetitive pairs. Here are some examples:

  • Past history
  • True facts
  • Terrible tragedy
  • End result
  • Final outcome
  • Free gift
  • Unexpected surprise

Remove passive voice and past participles

Deleting passive voice constructions and removing past participles will force you to tighten up your sentence and remove unnecessary words.

A good way to start is to perform find/replace for “-ing,” “have,” “had,” and “ed.” Obviously, you don’t need to remove every instance, but they can be removed in many cases.

Other common filler words

This infographic offers a nice breakdown on some common filler words. This article from Purdue is also helpful.

However, the best way to remove filler words from your writing is to practice by editing other people’s writing. The more time in my career I’ve spent editing others, the better I’ve become seeing where I can remove filler words in my own work.

Examining and removing your most common filler words is one way to improve the content you create and the power behind the words you use.

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. A version of this article first appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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