Have you ever struggled to make sense of a message because its author didn’t write clearly? Or maybe you wrote something that was misunderstood by your audience. It’s possible your writing was cluttered with filler words. Just like a desk littered with too much stuff, untidy writing can make it hard for your reader to find what they’re looking for.
The saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, goes, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Unessential words and phrases make your text unnecessarily long and potentially confusing. Lean writing requires knowing your messy writing habits.
Most writers are oblivious to the filler words and phrases they use. That’s why we raised awareness with our first article on the topic, 31 Words and Phrases You No Longer Need. Here are 23 more to watch for.
People use hedging words because they don’t want to appear demanding or bossy. And yet, these words can sound wishy-washy and make your writing less powerful.
Sometimes hedging words convey subtle differences in meaning. (Slightly overweight paints a more precise picture than overweight.) Just make sure you use these words with intent when you want to add another layer of meaning. Otherwise, they diminish your writing’s impact.
slightly annoyed by Kate’s repeated tardiness.
Sort of, Kind of
Their plan was
kind of short-sighted.
The play was
His car is
probably wait to send that email until we have final approval.
As a rule
As a rule, Cats prefer to sleep in warm, comfortable places.
Prepositions tell us where or when something is in relation to something else. They can relate to direction (over the hedge), time (since yesterday morning), location (at the bank), and space (under the stairs). A prepositional phrase is a group of words consisting of a preposition, its object, and any words that modify the object.
Some prepositional phrases not only add clutter but sound overly formal and stuffy, like these frequent offenders.
With regard to / In reference to
in reference to about Jimmy’s latest report card.
As to whether
inquired as to whether asked whether they would have enough silverware for the party.
At all times
Look both ways
at all times before proceeding through an intersection.
In terms of
She’s good in terms of writing. She’s a good writer.
In the event of
Please give 24-hours notice
in the event of a cancellation to cancel.
In the process of
in the process of moving next week.
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Business writing is notoriously loaded with jargon. We believe these phrases add formality and professionalism. And yet, our communication is more clear and direct without the filler words and phrases.
Due to the fact that / In fact
Due to the fact that there was a snowstorm Because of the snowstorm, they were closed for the day.
definitely like to attend the meeting.
Has the ability to
has the ability to can make great contributions to the program.
I believe / In my opinion
I believe We can make that happen.
Needless to say
Needless to say, James excelled at his job.
It’s important to note that
It’s important to note that Business communication should be clear and concise.
There are few absolutes in good writing. Sometimes, a word or phrases adds an essential level of nuance. That movie was kind of funny means you found the film amusing, but that movie was funny means there’s no question it made you laugh.
The trick to avoiding filler words is to be aware of them. When you catch yourself using filler, instead of writing that the movie was kind of funny you could say it was witty, droll, or amusing. Consider the filler you find in your writing an opportunity to be more precise.