With copywriting, less is often more. Choosing the right words usually means using one word instead of four.
And it’s that practice of seeking out the right word that is so infuriating yet also so satisfying when you get it right.
Much easier is getting rid of words that have no place being there in the first place.
These are often short and simple words you use every time you write. They sneak their way into your copy because they are so natural.
First drafts are full of them.
But they don’t belong there. They fatten the copy and bloat it. They are often called ‘fluff’ or ‘fog’ words, and they can reduce the impact of your writing.
Over the years, I have built up a long list of words that can often be eradicated in my copy, and I’d like to share a few of them with you today.
Cutting these words out (where it makes sense to do so) is one of the quickest ways to improve any piece of writing.
This was a real shocker when I first started looking for it. I had absolutely no idea how much I used ‘of the’ in my writing.
Even more shocking was how easy it was to remove in order to boost the power of my writing.
It can often be removed with just a simple edit, as in the following examples:
‘That’s one of the decisions they’ll regret’ = ‘That’s one decision they’ll regret.’
‘The walls of the house’ = ‘The house’s walls’
A quick rephrasing of the sentence makes it shorter, sharper, less bloated.
Of course, it doesn’t always work, and sometimes you should leave it be. But it seems to work more often than not.
I often perform a search for ‘that’ after I’ve finished a draft, especially the final draft.
It’s not a word that can always be removed, but in many cases, it can be taken out without changing the meaning of the sentence at all – while smartening up the writing at the same time.
Look at these sentences:
The one product THAT everyone wants to receive.
Christmas is the day THAT everyone gets together.
Take out ‘that’ from both these sentences, and you make them shorter and better without affecting the meaning at all.
I have a big issue with ‘just’. It comes so naturally to my writing that I just have to carry out a search and get rid of it in the final draft.
It is almost never necessary to the meaning of the sentence. It sounds right when I’m writing but always sounds awkward when reading it back.
Sometimes it has a place. But use it too much, and it weakens your writing. It’s one of those nothing words, those fluff words we use a lot in speech but rarely have a place in writing.
Other Fluff Words
Speaking of fluff words, there are many others that can sneak into your writing without you noticing:
It’s worth searching for them once you’ve finished writing and deciding whether you can remove them either by taking them out or rephrasing the sentence.
Adverbs are often necessary, but too many of them tend to weaken writing. Using fewer adverbs is one of the basic tips to write good fiction, but it’s good advice for any type of writing.
Searching for adverbs in the same way as the above fluff words is harder, but you can always use the Hemingway App.
This will highlight the adverbs in a piece of writing so you can decide whether to keep or get rid of them.
Smarten Up Your Copy
Always look for words that can go once you’re on the final draft. Ways to make your sentences shorter without changing the meaning.
You start spotting them after a while, sometimes even as you’re writing, but I still search for many of these words once I’ve finished a piece of copy.
Getting rid of them will make your copy tighter and more impactful. It will hold the attention of the reader more effectively and make your copy more persuasive.
Not bad for a few minutes’ work.