Fluff writing is the enemy of good writing. It distracts readers from the core message of the text, and it can also lead readers to become uninterested.
Whether you are a first-time author, a freelance writer, or a copywriter avoiding fluff writing will help you succeed in your writing career.
What is fluff writing and why do you want to avoid it
Fluff in writing is when there is unnecessary information, words, sentences, or phrases that are irrelevant to the main point of the written work.
Fluff writing is like putting too much dressing on your salad or too much ketchup on your fries. You want to avoid it because it will make your writing unenjoyable much like a salad drenched in olive oil.
When there are unnecessary sentences or complex words, readers stop reading. Plus the average human attention span is around 8 seconds, so you don’t want to give readers any excuse to lose focus!
The type of writing you should aim for
You want to write text that brings value to readers, serves a purpose, and ultimately achieves a goal. But if you write with fluff, the goal is lost under a mountain of fluff words.
If you want to produce valuable writing, here are 8 ways to avoid fluff writing.
8 steps to avoid fluff writing
It’s important to know that overcoming fluff in writing is something that all writers new and experienced have faced.
Fluff writing often happens because you want to share too much or you write the same way you talk.
Either way fluff writing is a growing pain that every great writer will have to overcome at some point in their career.
1. Write short and concise sentences
Writing is not a simple task. It’s easy to let your fingertips get carried away on the keyboard and type out long and drawn-out sentences. Yet from a reader's perspective, long sentences aren’t attractive.
Consider the medium you're writing for. If you're creating online content, your sentences need to be to the point to hold readers' attention. Aim to write clear, short, and concise sentences.
What that means is to write as few words as possible to communicate a clear message. Here are some examples.
Fluff sentence: I study Spanish in order to communicate with my in-laws.
Concise sentence: I study Spanish to communicate with my in-laws.
Instead of: When I started my own freelance writing business, it helped me in gaining a brand new understanding of entrepreneurship.
Write: Starting my freelance writing business helped me better understand entrepreneurship.
Did you see that fluff in writing can make simple sentences long and complicated?
Pro tip: A fun way to practice writing concisely is with Twitter. With their 280-word limitations, it’ll help you cut down on the number of fluff words in your writing.
2. Avoid filler and crutch words
Filler words and crutch words can be a writer’s Achilles heel and a top contributor to fluff writing. Filler words are used to fill empty spaces when you are talking.
These are words such as ‘ uh, like, just, really, etc”. When you use these words so much in your speech they sometimes sneak into your writing.
Crutch words are filler words that are specific to the writer. If you look back on your pre-edited drafts you might notice you often use certain words such as basically, certainly, definitely, just, etc.
These fluff words can make your writing appear repetitive, and make it seem like you’re unsure of yourself. Here are examples of sentences with and without filler words.
With filler words: At the end of the day, Sue was chosen for her hard work.
Without filler words: Sue was chosen for her hard work.
With filler words: I was basically the first one to arrive.
Without filler words: I was the first to arrive.
Notice how these words seem common when you speak but don’t come across as clear in writing.
Pro tip: To avoid fluff words, create a list of filler words you often use and refer to that list when you’re writing or editing your work.
3. Cut the jargon and big words
When you’re writing about different topics, especially some advanced topics, such as medicine or science, it can be easy to use jargon.
Jargon words are words specifically related to a certain profession or field of study. These words aren’t known by the general public.
It’s not uncommon to think that using jargon will make your writing appear professional and intellectual. However, using jargon is another example of fluff writing. Here are some jargon words you’ll want to avoid.
Examples: circle back, henceforth, foregoing, touch bases, whereat
4. Write from the perspective of your readers and aim to give value
Another simple way to avoid fluff in writing is to write from the perspective of your readers. When you’re writing or editing your piece, you can ask yourself what your readers want to know. What is most valuable to them?
By understanding that perspective it's easier to choose which information to include and which information to leave out.
An article on Masterclass.com suggests when writing for an intended audience create an audience profile including details such as audience interests and profession.
Next find connections between you and your audience. Think about the information that you and your audience both know about. Lastly, add value and be engaging.
Adding value comes down to helping your readers by offering solutions or providing an interesting story.
Making your writing engaging is about writing rich and interesting sentences that help readers use their imagination or using words and phrases that readers can relate to.
5. Use expressive verbs
Another way to make your writing engaging is to use expressive verbs. This is a helpful tool for authors as descriptive verbs can help readers better picture what’s happening in the scenes in your book.
Here are some examples of ordinary verbs that can be considered fluff words.
Instead of writing, she walked over, you can write she stumbled over
Change sitting to perching over or slouching.
Expressive verbs help paint a picture for the reader.
Pro tip: If you’re struggling with finding expressive words you can use a thesaurus to help you out.
6. Don't state the obvious
A somewhat challenging task when it comes to avoiding fluff writing is knowing exactly which information you should include. There are certain fluff words you can omit because of common knowledge.
Writing sentences such as “ he looked up at the blue sky” is stating the obvious. Everyone knows the sky is blue, it doesn't need to be stated.
A way to avoid this is by asking yourself what information your audience knows and what information they want to know.
7. Use active voice instead of passive voice
This is where writing can be a little more technical but it's a powerful way to eliminate fluff in writing.
When the subject of a sentence you write is performing the action or the verb, it's active voice.
For example, Bob threw the ball. When the subject you write is affected by the action or verb, it's passive voice. For instance: The ball was thrown by Bob.
Using a passive voice can make sentences sound too wordy and long. Another reason is that passive sentences can come across as uncertain and make you seem unsure of your writing.
If you want to eliminate fluff in your writing use a more active voice and less passive voice.
Protip: Use tools such as Hemingwayapp.com to help you identify passive voice.
8. Train your brain to eliminate fluff with a writing exercise
Similar to sports, eliminating fluff writing takes time and practice. Here are exercises you could use to help you eliminate fluff in your writing.
Brutally edit your free writes
Free writing is a common exercise and is also known as automatic writing because you write everything that comes to your brain and don’t stop until you reach a time limit.
If you free write for three minutes and get to 200 words, your job is to edit what you wrote to 100 words.
Learn from other authors
The simplest way to eliminate fluff words from your writing is to read and study the writings of authors who wouldn’t dare add in a just or very into their written work. An author such as Ernest Hemmingway is a great one to model after.
In addition, if you write for a target audience, read what your audience would read. To go a little further you can read the content of your competitors, and try to edit their content to be more concise.
Write better by avoiding fluff in writing
Whether you want to become an author or a journalist, avoiding fluff writing is essential. And if being a better writer is something you want to achieve it’s important to be mindful when you’re writing.
Pay attention to crutch and filler words, avoid long sentences and paragraphs, don't use jargon, and continue to practice writing concisely.
Using these tips will transform your writing and have you writing like a pro. And you can do some extra research by reading articles like the best books about how to write and the best self-publishing companies.