In online writing land, clarity is your best friend. The clearest prose is the type anyone can understand, learn from, and enjoy. Stuffing your sentences and paragraphs with filler and fluff – words and phrases that add zero meaning to what you’re trying to say – is the opposite of clear writing.
– It bores your readers.
– It complicates your ideas.
– It waters down your message and makes it less impactful.
Online content needs a lighter touch to succeed. Internet users are notorious for their short attention spans, and most of them aren’t reading in-depth but scanning for meaning.
This list of words and phrases includes common culprits. When/if you use them, check yourself and ask, “What is this word/phrase adding to what I’m trying to say?”
If the answer is “nothing,” cut it.
With that in mind, let’s get to the list:
1. In order to
This is one of the flabbiest phrases I see in writing. People use it, but not one sentence stops working if “in order to” is deleted (or replaced with “to,” which has the same meaning). This one small change makes the statement clearer.
“Really” clogs your content. Think of it this way: If you’re saying something is “really” tall, you’re missing the mark. How tall is it? Quantify it. If something has “really” improved, readers want to know how much. Qualify it.
While the purpose of “really” is to exaggerate something, readers respond better to text that gets more granular in its measurements. With that in mind, swap this vague term for a more accurate descriptor. If you can’t be more descriptive, delete “really”.
3. Believe and think
“Believe” and “think” imply something is opinion or indicate doubt in its validity. Both are bad for your copywriting. People are more interested in the facts and hard information than they are in vague thoughts. Even if you’re writing an opinion piece, readers should understand that based on the context, making “I think” a needless phrase. These two words also pop up when a writer isn’t sure about the statistic or fact, and that is dangerous. Again, readers want information, and merely “thinking” a statistic is true isn’t enough to get it past the firing squad. Don’t include a fact if it needs to be qualified as a thought or belief.
4. Always and never
These two aren’t flabby, but they are seldom true. If you say, “Marketers never consider their clients,” you’re horribly off base. Applying an all-inclusive adjective paints with too broad a brush and is reckless. Instead, opt for “few” or “rare” if you need to quantify but don’t have the numbers. The same thing applies to “always.” Instead, opt for words like “most” or “many.”
“Stuff” is an unprofessional term that harms your content. It’s not descriptive or specific. Instead, define what that “stuff” is. Consider these two headlines: “Stuff You Should Do for a More Successful Blog” or “5 Writing Tricks for a More Successful Blog.” The specificity and clarity of the second headline is more helpful to your readers.
The only time “just” has a place in your content is when you’re talking about something being “fair.” For example, “The trial was just.” Uses of “just” to imply something small or inefficient (e.g., “She just couldn’t do it.”) don’t add anything to the sentence. In most cases, you can remove the word “just” without affecting the sentence’s meaning.
“That” may seem like an inoffensive word, but it’s usually not necessary. For example, “It’s the most delicious cake that I’ve eaten” could easily be “It’s the most delicious cake I’ve eaten.” In similar instances, remove it for more streamlined content.
“Then” makes your writing stammer, which is the opposite of what you want. To smooth your text, remove the word “then” whenever the sentence makes sense without it. And don’t start sentences with “then” because it makes them clunky and difficult to read.
People frequently misuse the word “literally.” It means exactly. Whether used correctly or incorrectly, the word often is superfluous. Get rid of it or replace it with something more descriptive and precise.
“So” is another word that doesn’t do much. Despite this, many people use it, particularly as a transition or explanatory word. Delete it without affecting the sentence’s meaning.
“Got” is a lazy word because it doesn’t tell people much about how or why someone got something. Instead, use words that add power such as “obtained” and “earned.”
“Often” teases readers by telling them that something happens frequently without being clear. Replace “often” with specific descriptions such as “five times a week” or “every year.”
In many cases, you can leave out the word “absolutely” because it’s redundant. For example, “The conclusion she reached was absolutely final.” Final IS final – it can’t go further. Or, “You have absolutely no reason not to try.” Last time I checked, “no” is absolute. It doesn’t need a useless adverb to make it stronger. Consensus: Ditch “absolutely.”
Want to know the laziest way to change the subject? Use “anyway” as an introductory word. Get rid of it and work on making your transitions sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph flow better.
15. Obviously, undoubtedly
If the point you’re making is obvious or indubitable, then why do you use one of those words? You don’t.