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. Cutting filler words that bloat your online writing is how you hone it to a sharp point. People use it, but not one sentence stops working if “in order to” is deleted (or replaced with “to,” which has the same meaning). Don’t include a fact if it needs to be qualified as a thought or belief. Instead of using these vague phrases, replace them with hard-and-fast statistics. Just 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. This phrasing adds no meaning and makes sentences unnecessarily longer. As you read each word or sentence, consider whether it adds to the meaning. When you write in a way that’s easier for people to understand, your content is likely to attract more readers. Her career in content marketing was completely self-taught.
Editor’s note: Useless words abound in text. That’s why Julia updated this article originally published in 2017, adding more words that you should avoid.
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.
Cutting filler words that bloat your online writing is how you hone it to a sharp point. It’s how you ratchet up your words’ value for readers (because clearer content is easier to understand – period).
This list of words and phrases includes the 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. A lot
“A lot” is similar to “really” in terms of vagueness. Saying something is “a lot different than it used to be” robs your readers of an experience. While they understand something has changed, they don’t know what it was or how much it’s shifted. They want more specific information to make good decisions and to connect with your writing on a deeper level.
Instead of using these vague phrases, replace them with hard-and-fast statistics. Go for percentages, pounds, solid units of measurement. Those quantifiable terms perform better than the old standby “a lot.”
5. 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…