rogersgeorge on October 4th, 2017

The time has come to write about fluff again—I ran into a comic on the subject. We curmudgeons also call fluff redundancy, wordiness, and unnecessary verbiage. Probably some saltier terms, too. Fluff is the antithesis of conciseness, one of my gold rules for good writing.

I’ve featured this gal in Jump Start before. Several times, actually; that one was just a sample.

So when you write, look over what you wrote. (You always proofread, don’t you?) Do you see any words that you could delete without changing the meaning? Delete ’em! Your readers will thank you.

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I’ve Mentioned Fluff Before

rogersgeorge on August 14th, 2017

Actually several times over the past several years. (Search on redundan or fluff to see more.) Extra words go contrary to my rule about good expository writing, to be concise. So I suppose I don’t really need to mention it again, but this Wrong Hands comic has some good examples of what not to do. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?

Two Harrumpfs

rogersgeorge on July 24th, 2017

No comic today, but something to think about.

My second gold rule of writing is to be correct. This from This Day in History for July 20:

In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit.

The whole moon is dark half the time! They went to the FAR side of the moon! I know, “dark” is a synonym for “unknown,” and I presume they were using a professional writer who decided to write, um, informally. Still, why not be accurate?

While I’m at it, here’s another example of bad writing from the same article:

After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hoursApollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.

“Into” is unnecessary. (It’s redundant. “Entering” includes the idea of going into.) I call this kind of mistake “fluff.” It goes against my third rule, to be concise. If you don’t need a word, don’t use it.

Double harrumpf.

Three Unnecessary Words

rogersgeorge on June 27th, 2016

Usually unnecessary, anyway. Not counting “please,” see a recent post. My term for unnecessary words is fluff. Don’t write fluff.

Successfully. If you did something successfully, you did it. No need to add “successfully.” Here’s a recent headline I saw in Inside Climate News:

Iceland Experiment Successfully Turns CO2 Emissions into Rock

Some might argue that the word implies that the success was a surprise, but face it—the headline works just fine without “successfully,” and turning a gas into rock would be surprising in any case.

I see a lot of pages on which a person applies for a job. They usually end with something like

Congratulations. You have successfully submitted your application for the position of whatchamacallit with our company.

Why not say something like “We got your application and we’ll take a look at it.”? (see an earlier post about using the future tense to be vague.)

Different. When you mention two (or more) things, you often don’t gain anything by saying they’re different, unless the difference is the point. Usually, if they’re different enough to enumerate, you have already made them enough different that you don’t need to say so.

The farm has two different bulls.
The farm has two bulls.

His wife has twenty-four different chickens.
His wife has twenty-four chickens.

There are two ways to hold a trombone.
There are two different ways to hold a trombone.

Conciseness is a virtue. (Technically it’s “concision,” but it’s also a virtue to be clear.)

Totally. I was talking with my daughter (not the one who wrote the guest post) about unnecessary words, and she suggested “totally.” If something is so, it’s totally so unless you say otherwise. Since a lot of things can be incompletely so, be sure to say so.

The poor creature was dead
The poor creature was totally dead.
The poor creature was half dead.

Unless you’re  Valley Girl, totally.

Don’t Say “Please”

rogersgeorge on June 5th, 2016

Suppose you’re writing some instructions, or even a single instruction. One word you don’t want to use is “please”!

“Please” implies your reader has a choice. When you’re giving instructions you’re telling your reader to do something, you’re not making a request. It’s not a favor you’re asking, in effect, you’re giving a command. For example:

To operate a car,

  1. Turn on the ignition.
  2. Step on the gas.
  3. Aim the car down the road.
  4. Please don’t hit anybody.

Simplistic, yes, but only that last one is a request. When you should leave out a word, the word is fluff if you leave it in, so get rid of it.

For practice, look at these. Which ones are correct, and which aren’t?

In case of fire, please break glass.
Click “Submit” to be removed from our mailing list.
Stick ’em up!
Move aside!
Please move aside!
Measure the length to the nearest half inch.
To join the list, type your email address and press Enter.

Let’s look at that last one. Yes, it’s a request, but is there any other way to get on the list? No. So the “please” is inappropriate. Rule of thumb: if you can leave off the “Please,” do so.