Let's be clear - in the business of writing, fluff is bad.
Whether you're writing a blog post, product description, or static landing page, fluff is the enemy of powerful and compelling prose. And while this may seem like an obvious statement for many content writers, the impact of avoiding filler words in digital marketing cannot be overstated.
With the potential to bore your audience and - even worse - bury the true purpose of your content, avoiding fluff is a key skill for any aspiring writer.
Examples of strategies for avoiding fluff include:
- Developing a great intro
- Keeping your paragraphs short
- Avoiding jargon
- Limiting both adverbs and adjectives
- Not stating the obvious
- Eliminating passive voice
- Keeping your content "on topic"
- Diligently editing/revising your content
And yet, before you can eliminate fluff, you have to know what it is.
What is Fluff in Writing?
Fluff is a term used to refer to any general information or details that fail to add value to your written content.
In writing, this typically manifests as a result of an author's effort to increase the length of an article with the hope of more easily reaching a specific word or page count. Here at WordAgents, we view this as one of the cardinal sins of content creation. Rest assured, this is something that we will never do when you purchase one of our writing services.
An article that is full of empty words will bore your readers to death and could be a major reason why your site has a high bounce rate.
Essentially, fluff is the archenemy of engagement.
Writers should look to get to the point and avoid filler sentences at all costs by implementing the following best practices.
Outline Your Content
As most fluff writing results from poor planning on the part of the author, the first and most important strategy for avoiding fluff is to first develop a plan of attack and draft an outline for your piece.
Taking a few minutes to gather your research and hone in on your key focus points will go a long way in ensuring that you stay on topic, avoid unnecessary words and optimize reader navigation of your writing.
Develop a Great Intro
A piece of content is only as strong as its opening paragraph.
A strong introduction will:
- Prepare the audience for the information they will discover in the article
- Convince the reader they will receive value from the article
- Concisely summarize what the article is about
While there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to intros (i.e., writing styles tend to vary greatly from author to author), the best intros will invite the reader to consider the article's thesis. The goal is to entice the reader to accept this invitation.
Remember, as you only get one chance to make a good first impression, avoid letting your introduction drone on for multiple paragraphs and get right to the point.
Keep Paragraphs and Sentences Short
Business writing is all about writing with authority, and authority is driven by concision.
Keeping both your paragraphs and sentences short will both lend power to your prose as an author, improve your SEO and assist in making your prose more digestible (as big walls of text are often difficult to read).
A good rule of thumb for paragraph length is between 3-4 visual lines (for example, most of the paragraphs in this post), including a core sentence that summarizes the paragraph's content.
One of the most effective ways to remove fluff in writing and grab the attention of your website visitors is to "talk" like a human in your writing.
Using jargon speech or phrases to string together a bunch of text/filler sentences is a sure-fire way to confuse and bore your readers.
"Avoiding fluff is a best practice for content creation."
Well, what exactly is a "best practice" (aside from an overused marketing buzzword)? Rather than feeding your audience ambiguous fluff words, aim for clarity:
"Avoiding fluff in content creation is a strategy that should be adopted because it has proven effectiveness."
Make a concerted effort to write for your readership (i.e., the average person!), and the details/information will naturally flow.
Adjectives are necessary words when writing, but using too many to increase your word count and making something sound exceptionally good is just extra.
For example, words like "amazing" and "incredible" should be avoided.
While yes, descriptive words can help make your writing more exciting, this type of exaggeration in your writing will cause your readers to question your credibility and the trustworthiness of your writing. When in doubt, kill your adjectives.
When it comes to filler words, adverbs should be treated like adjectives - cut where possible.
As Stephen King pointed out in his seminal work on how to write well (i.e., "On Writing"), the adverb is not your friend. Adding "ly" to your verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs in most cases is a doomed attempt to provide sentence clarity.
You shouldn't depend on adverbs to provide meaning to your content writing. Rather focus on strong and "matter of fact" sentences, and context should take care of the rest for your audience.
Don't State the Obvious
One of the most effective techniques for keeping readers engaged is to avoid repeating common knowledge and thought-terminating cliches if they do not add anything to your words.
This is a typical error that goes back to our cardinal sin of content creation - writing for word count.
For example, if I'm drafting a piece that takes a deep dive on the topic of "keyword density," do I need a section explaining the basics of SEO?
Again, you should be writing for your readers!
If your words or statements are likely to elicit a "no duh" response from your readers, you have a problem. It's OK to assume that your readership is seeking knowledge, but don't assume that they are dumb and don't depend on word redundancy. Information should always be hyper-targeted to your topic.
Eliminate Passive Voice
One of the most basic tips for eliminating fluff goes all the way back to high school grammar class - writing in the active voice. Recall that in the active voice, the subject engages in some kind of action.
Here is an example:
"The varsity team won the game."
While in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Here is another example:
"The game was one by the varsity team."
Nothing is more confusing than reading pages of passive voice prose. As the experts at Grammarly highlight, an active voice sentence will use fewer words, assign responsibility, and cut the vague, often ambiguous fluff typically found in a passive voice sentence. Keep it simple and use the active voice.
Stay on Topic
When it comes to your audience's attention span, rambling is a recipe for disaster.
A sentence that goes off the "deep end" risks losing the point. While this may seem rather obvious, it's surprising how easy it is for writers to lose their train of thought. Remember, people (whether clients or the casual web-surfer) are coming to your website to find answers. Don't let the narrative stray.
Placing "stream of consciousness" thoughts in a place where they don't belong will bore your reader and bounce them from your site.
Edit and Revise
Our final tip for avoiding and removing filler words is to diligently edit and revise.
As humans, we are creatures of habit.
One of the best habits to implement as an aspiring writer is to revise your content via the tips above, one step at a time. There are a number of tools that can help you with this process, and one of the best is the online editor, Grammarly.
As an editing tool driven by Artificial Intelligence, Grammarly acts as your personal content editor, scoring your content and providing you with a blueprint for easily digestible prose. Here at WordAgents, we love Grammarly so much that we guarantee our customers a performance score of 90% or higher on all content.
Remember, failure to diligently edit is one of the main reasons that content fails.
There's never a good reason to skip editing. This process, while time-consuming, will help you identify the things that belong in your writing, as well as the stuff (i.e., the fluff) your readers could do without.
Content Writing Without Fluff Writing
While no content is ever perfect, there are a number of simple strategies you can implement in your quest to develop compelling and engaging content. From a thorough outline to diligent editing - and everything in between - the simple tips outlined above will go a long way in helping you eliminate jargon-driven prose.
What strategies do you use? Tell us in the comments!