Laura Petrolino

Remove These Filler Words to Improve the Success of Your Content

By: Laura Petrolino | March 25, 2019 | 
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Remove These Filler Words to Improve the Success of Your ContentLast week I discussed filler words in your verbal communication.

When they were useful and when they were useless.

This week I turn my focus to filler words in writing.

This is an interesting topic for me because if you’ve read any of my posts here, you know I write how I speak.

Exactly how I speak.

So, I have a tendency to use a fair amount of sarcasm, ellipses, stupid jokes, metaphors, and puns.

I also often have to edit out A LOT of exclamation marks and excess adjectives. I’m the type of person who either REALLY, REALLY LOVES something or REALLY, REALLY HATES it.

There’s no in-between.

This means I often feel like words alone can’t express my intensity of emotion adequately.

I add in about four extra adjectives and 30 or so exclamation marks to attempt to express it.

I often get a notification in my email spell check saying I use too many exclamation marks.

Spell check doesn’t really appreciate my emotion around every topic I discuss. Alas….

Why We Use Filler Words in Writing

Often we put filler words in writing without realizing it.

We do this either because IT IS how we speak, it’s a figure of speech, or they are common phrases we see other people use. 

A lot of time it’s just bad habits.

You tend to use more filler words if you feel less confident about what you write, or can’t express yourself well enough.

Why We Should Eliminate Filler Words in Writing

Have you ever gotten a package full of those styrofoam peanuts?

So full you can’t find what you ordered?

You know it’s in there (or think it has to be) but there are so darn many peanuts attempting to find your actual order is like looking for a needle in a snowstorm.

Not fun and not easy.

That’s what you do to your reader when you use a lot of filler words in your writing.

You force them to search through a bunch of packing peanuts to find your point.

Rule one of communications: make it easy for your reader to find your point.

Take That Out

One of the best examples of a useless filler word to eliminate from your writing is “that”.

In most cases “that” can be taken out to tighten up your sentences.

And sentences always sound better without it.

If you are a “that-aholic” it will take you a while to adjust to how sentences look without “that.” Right now you might be thinking, “no, all the sentences I use “that” in need “that”….I need “that,” I can’t not use “that”…don’t take my “that” away from me pleeeease, my sentences won’t make sense.”

These are clearly the ramblings of an addict.

Junior year of high school I was accepted into honors English. This was a competitive class to get into and I was super excited.

I also had quite the ego when it came to my writing because I had always been told I was an excellent writer and aced any writing assignment.

Mrs. Druse, the teacher of this class, took my writing to the cleaners.

I remember crying every time I’d get the first draft back from her with editing notes.

Let us also remember this was before computers, so every time you rewrote something you had to rewrite it by hand (man, I’m old….).

One of the biggest edits she gave me was massive and brutal “that” removal.

I struggled with it at first because I didn’t feel like things sounded as clear without my useless “that” insertions.

But that was the addiction talking.

Today, I’m very grateful for Mrs. Druse’s “that” intervention (as well as all the other ways she helped me improve my writing).

Luckily, in this age of technology, you can de-that yourself easily by doing a find/replace of “that” on your computer.

Start making this an editing step in all of your writing.

Just Say No To Modifiers and Determiners

In most cases, we waaaaaay overuse modifiers and determiners.  

Or we use them incorrectly.

Doing so makes us sound less confident, clear, and non-committal.

Lack of confidence, clarity, or commitment is never a good thing.

Use a modifier if it’s necessary to add specificity or detail to a sentence.

Do not use a modifier if you can remove it and the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change.

Some examples you can remove from your writing:

  • Just
  • Only
  • Always
  • Almost
  • Hardly
  • At first
  • Simply
  • Kind of
  • Sort of
  • Type of
  • Really
  • Basically
  • Definitely
  • Actually
  • Generally
  • Specific
  • Particular

Say It Once And Say It Right

Often we want so desperately to get our point across we say the same thing multiple times in slightly different ways in our sentences.

Better word choice can help eliminate this because we will choose the right words to fully express our meeting.

Another thing to watch for is repetitive pairs. These are things like:

  • Past history
  • True facts
  • Terrible tragedy
  • End result
  • Final outcome
  • Free gift
  • Unexpected surprise

Remove Passive Voice and Past Participles

If you focus on the removal of passive voice and past participles, it will force you to tighten up your sentence and remove unneeded words.

A good way to start with this is to do a find/replace for “ing”, “have,” “had,” and “ed.”

Obviously, you don’t need to remove all passive voice and past participles, but they can be removed in many cases.

Other Common Filler Words in Writing

There are a ton of other filler words we use in writing.

I love this infographic as a nice self-check on some of the most common ones.

This article from Purdue is also super helpful. But most of all: edit other people’s writing.

Goodness knows I use a ton of useless filler words.

I work on it, but I’m just as bad as anyone in that department.

However, the more time in my career I’ve spent editing others the better I’ve become seeing where I can remove filler words in my own work.

It’s a bit like the give a penny, take a penny of content marketing.

Being a writer is a never-ending evolution.

We can only hope that evolution is a forward moving one.

Examining and removing your most common filler words is one way to improve the content you create and the power behind the words you use.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.