Beginning writers do it. Experienced writers do it—pack their sentences with unnecessary “filler words,” making a perfectly clear five-word sentence sound weak, dull and vague. With a discerning red pen (or delete key), eliminate filler words for more powerful copy.
Here are 7 common filler words we use all the time and how to get rid of them. (Pop Quiz: How many filler words did I use in the headline?)
“That” is the most overly used filler word. Writers use it in between phrases when they don’t have to. For example:
The girl wore a pair of red socks that she bought yesterday.
The girl imagined that she had red socks.
These sentences read fine without “that” filler.
Search your copy for “thats.” If the sentence makes sense without, cut it out.
“Of” is another pesky filler we think we need but don’t. Case in point:
The widget sits outside of the box.
You don’t need the of. Delete! In copywriting, every word matters. In this case, the “of” takes up valuable space and adds nothing. Like “that,” if the sentence makes sense without “of,” take it out.
“Just” isn’t “just” an unnecessary filler word, it weakens your copy. Writers occasionally use it in place of “quite.” In most cases, they use it to diminish something.
“The best coffee on the planet is just around the corner.”
Just around the corner? Why not around the corner? Same meaning, one less word.
One exception: Stevie Wonder.
“I just called…to say…I love you…” It’s filler, but so what! It’s Stevie.
4. And then
Writers use “and then” to show progression, but you don’t need “and then” to show progression.
I bought the best cup of coffee on the planet this morning. And then I savored every drop.
Removing “And then” gives the copy more power. When you spot a filler word, see if you can rewrite to make your prose more colorful.
The cow jumped over the fence, and then he ate grass.
With a few minor tweaks, you make the cow’s morning more interesting:
The cow hurdled the fence. After he landed, he grazed on the pasture’s lush, green grass.
You don’t need “and then” to explain progression. Ditto for “and so.”
Is it or isn’t it? If you’re writing a reported story, you’d better be sure. If you’re writing sales copy, you need to make a strong point. “Maybe” kills both of these effects. I’ve seen blog writers insert “maybe” when they’re not sure of themselves. Do your homework so you are sure!
Ex: Maybe we need a coffee-brewing app.
Do you or don’t you? Sounds like a good idea to me. Speak your mind and cut the maybe.
Same problem as maybe. “Probably” weakens your point. It adds no value to your copy.
If you eat a gallon of ice cream every day, you’re probably going to gain weight.
Probably? Definitely, unless you’re a professional cyclist racing Tour de France and that’s the only thing you eat all day.
7. I think
It’s your story. The whole article is what you think. You don’t need to “I think” to show us you’re making a point. “I think” can also mean you’re not sure what you’re talking about.
“I think Earth is round.”
If you’re writing about the solar system, make your point without hedging. The Earth is round. I’m sure you’ll find research to back up your claim!
Honorable filler mentions: Really, very, but, like.
Have you broken the filler-word habit? If so, tell us how in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Christian Cable, Flickr