If you write content for a living, you have encountered this dreaded word at some point in your career — fluff. Maybe somebody warned you to avoid fluff, or perhaps you even lost a client after they called your articles fluffy. But what is fluff even, and is there an easy way to identify it?
Fluff in writing is any filler content that doesn’t directly contribute to the topic meaningfully. Examples of fluff include wordiness, long/rarely used words, irrelevant content, lengthy anecdotes, and stating the obvious. Overusing function words, such as transitional words, is another example.
As we transition from reaching word counts in school essays to professional writing, we struggle to identify good from bad writing practices.
This article will cover some examples of fluff and how to sharpen your writing without compromises.
11 Examples of Fluff
Before discussing fluff, let’s review all examples I could find and think of. Note that everybody has a different definition of what fluff is. This list encompasses what most would perceive as fluff. As a side bonus, the order is from most to least severe types of fluff.
1. Off-topic Content
The worst type of fluff are paragraphs or sometimes entire sections of an article that have nothing to do with the topic. For example, you Google what food to feed your hamster, and two subheadings later, you’re reading about how to clean your hamster’s cage.
Many bloggers do this to artificially increase the length of an article for no good reason. But the truth is that your topic alone dictates the word count. To reuse the example above, if you click on a larger overview of how to care for hamsters, and feeding is just a smaller part, it’s not off-topic.
Leave the word count of your blog posts flexible whenever possible. As a bonus, quality will be more of a focus.
Tip: Imagine yourself as the reader and try to come up with follow-up questions you would ask and use those questions as subheadings.
Repetitive content comes on two levels: micro and macro repetition.
Micro repetition is when the same idea is repeated within a section or paragraph.
Example: A good way to lose weight is to be in a caloric deficit. By eating fewer calories, you can lose fat.
One of the most common types I see is when a writer uses full sentences for subheadings when it’s not necessary. Here’s an example of a layout with repetition:
3 Reasons Your Hamster Is Sleepy
Your Hamster Is Constipated
Your Hamster Ate Too Much Sugar
Your Hamster Is Ill
Now, compare this to:
3 Reasons Your Hamster Is Sleepy
Too Much Sugar
Macro repetition is even worse. It’s when larger portions of the article are repeated. Unfortunately, it’s a common pitfall many writers fall into when writing longer articles. The only way to counteract it is to read what you’ve written before moving on to the next section.
One of the worst crimes against informational content is vagueness. These types of sentences clutter your writing and provide zero value to the reader. A good way to identify a vague sentence is to read it and determine if you got anything from it.
Example: If you treat your plants well, they will thrive. — By watering your plants regularly and keeping them in sunlight, they will thrive.
4. Lengthy Anecdotes
This isn’t to say that short, meaningful anecdotes are bad because they’re absolutely not. It’s one of the few things that distinguish human from AI writing.
5. Overuse of Intensifiers
As Cambridge Dictionary puts it, “Intensifiers are adverbs or adverbial phrases that strengthen the meaning of other expressions and show emphasis.”
Some of the most common ones are:
Now, intensifiers aren’t inherently bad, but excessive use fluffs up your writing. A good rule of thumb is to use only 1 intensifier for every 3 lines of text. And avoid putting two intensifiers next to each other because it leads to an opposite effect.
Example: I really love eating very delicious food. — I love eating delicious food.
Wordiness is when you use more words than needed to write a sentence. It comes in many forms, but redundancy is the most common. Filler words and phrases that don’t add value, such as “in order to” instead of just “to,” fluff up your writing.
To be honest, one of the best ways to quickly slash down on wordiness is to use a writing tool like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. The free versions work well enough, but you must buy the premium versions for the full experience. It’s up to you, but I think it’s worth it. I am not being paid to say this.
Remember that wordiness is situational, as sometimes these words can completely change the meaning of a sentence. If a sentence makes sense without it, delete it.
I’ll use my previous sentence as an example: But if a sentence can make sense without having the word, then delete it.
Here are some common filler words that you should avoid when possible:
- In order to
- Due to the fact
- The course of
Another example is using an “of phrase” instead of an adjective. Use your best judgment here, but more often than not, you can substitute an of phrase with a possessive adjective.
Example: The world of John — John’s World
One word particularly overused but not often discussed is “help.” It makes sense to use the word help in front of a verb if the person or thing only helped you achieve something. However, never use help like this.
Example: The coffee machine helped make my morning coffee.
It’s also common to see wordiness/repetition on a sentence level. Avoid using function words (pronouns, conjunctions, determiners, etc.) when possible:
Example: The world is not only beautiful, but it is also dangerous. — The world is beautiful but also dangerous.
You could argue that “but also” could be replaced with “and” here as well, but I wanted to keep the original vibe of the sentence.
Lastly, avoid using full forms of verbs when contractions can be used. Sometimes you want to do that for emphasis or if it’s formal writing, though.
Example: I have cooked breakfast. — I’ve cooked breakfast.
7. Long Words and Lesser-known Synonyms
There is one caveat with this: writing technical articles. For instance, if your target audience is audiophiles, it’s okay to use words like “frequency spectrum” or “coherence.”
Suppose your average reader is a lady in her late 40s who just adopted a new puppy and wants to learn how to take care of it. In that case, you probably shouldn’t be using words like “brachycephalic” to describe a pug’s head, at least not without giving any context.
Synonyms are a great way to spice up your writing. However, infrequently used synonyms are another example of fluff, plus they make your writing seem posh. Imagine I used the word “specimen” instead of “example” in the previous sentence. It’d seem pretentious and out of place.
The gist is that you must know your audience. Avoid using words that the reader will have to look up.
8. Passive Voice
This is a relatively simple way to avoid fluff and ties into wordiness. Passive voice is when your object becomes the subject of the sentence, requiring you to use the verb “be” to construct the sentence. Again, unless you’re writing a formal article, you should use the active form of a verb.
Example: The passive voice should be avoided. — You should avoid using the passive voice. — Avoid using the passive voice.
As an added bonus, I changed the mood from indicative to imperative to sharpen it up even more.
9. Too Much Personality and Opinions
Personality and opinions in a blog post are excellent. If you’ve read this far, you can tell I like letting my personality shine through. Plus, writing in the first person lines up with Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines and distinguishes your writing from AI.
However, just like lengthy anecdotes that don’t contribute to a topic, adding too much of yourself distracts the reader’s attention from the information they came for. Again, limit I/me sentences to one or two per section.
Example: I like how comfortable this chair is. Plus, I find it quite stylish. — I like how comfortable this chair is. Plus, it’s quite stylish.
Clichés are essentially overused phrases and idioms. They’re fine when speaking or chatting, but they have no place in published works.
Here are a few examples of clichés:
- Too many X spoils the broth
- Stick to one’s guns
- Bring to the table
- Born and bred
- Cold feet
Many professional writers say that parentheses are unnecessary, and I agree. They’re distracting. And if you feel the need to put something in parentheses, that supplemental information is either unnecessary or should be somehow put in the sentence.
Example: Don’t feed your cat too much (or not enough) food. — Don’t feed your cat too much or little food.
How Much Fluff Is Too Much?
Now that you’ve reviewed the list, you’re probably wondering how to strike the right balance. I’ll preface this by saying that quantity is key. I’ve seen some similar articles like this one on the internet, and many of them essentially tell the writer to cut out everything. But that’s not the right solution.
If your writing sounds boring or you get distracted while reading it aloud, you have too much fluff in your article. Conversely, you should edit your text if it sounds robotic and lacks any personality.
To keep your writing sharp, SEO friendly, and engaging all at the same time, I suggest removing more extreme examples of fluff completely. Friendly reminder, this list is ordered in terms of severity. Stuff like off-topic content and repetition must be eliminated from your writing, but an occasional “fancy” word, parentheses, or some personality is great.
Blog posts are supposed to be both conversational and informative. So, please don’t treat the list as a strict set of rules. Rather, they’re just guidelines that can be ignored where needed.
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