By: Marilyn L. Davis
Filler Words – Um, Well, They Just Fill
“I had to stop reading business books. It’s aggravating to read only 20 pages of insight spread across 400 pages of blatant filler.” ~Julian Shapiro
With COVID still a problem, many of us are home, and that means that we have more time to read, check FB, LinkedIn, and Twitter looking for helpful or interesting posts and links to blogs, but even with more time, do we want more filler in what we read? I don’t think so.
I’m like Julian Shapiro when I start reading a post and immediately notice that there are adverbs, adjectives, and tangential aspects that may or may not inform, entertain, or enchant me. But guess what? I just used fillers in my sentence. How?
Adverbs, adjectives, and tangential aspects are all represented by words. So, I can simplify my sentence with …I notice words that may or may not inform, entertain, or enchant me. But that’s still wordy.
But what is informing, entertaining, and enchanting? Aren’t they all the level of engagement I experience when I read something?
Then I need to get more precise. What about:
Like Julian Shapiro, I notice words that don’t engage me.
The Problem with Filler Words
When I review submissions, I appreciate a writer who’s researched their topic, found valuable links, or given me a different perspective on writing. However, too many links, too much information, or straying off-topic to meet the word count is distracting and creates a disconnect.
These issues may not mean that I reject the submission because the writer and I can make edits and revisions. When we’ve done our respective jobs, we’ll have a post that gets published.
Let’s Be Clear
“When asked what qualities they value most in writing, people who must read a great deal professionally put clarity at the top of their list. If they have to invest too much effort in figuring out the writer’s meaning, they will give up in dismay or annoyance.” ~Maxine C. Hairston, Successful Writing
Clarity in our writing means we evaluate every word.
- Is it necessary?
- Will the reader need Google or a Thesaurus to understand the intent of the word?
All of our posts begin with a topic, subject, or idea, which we write with words. We start with sentences and turn them into paragraphs. We may separate our topic’s points with subheadings, or in the case of books, we have chapters, but all writing starts with a sentence. A simple sentence is also known as a clausal sentence. It may have a modifier besides a subject, verb, and object.
Are you writing the most straightforward sentence you can that still conveys your intent? If not, then you may want to consider the following:
“Being a journalist influenced me as a novelist. I mean, a lot of critics think I’m stupid because my sentences are so simple and my method is so direct: they think these are defects. No. The point is to write as much as you know as quickly as possible.”― Kurt Vonnegut
I also understand that when the words are flowing, the keys are clacking, the meaning is clear to you, sentence structure and brevity aren’t your focus. Just know that in the edit, you can revise it to be more exact.
Google or Thesaurus Words
I created a Vocabulary of Recovery Terms for my TIERS curriculum because I knew it was important for clients to understand addiction and recovery terminology. Given that we had learned the language of getting, buying, and using drugs, I knew that the clients could learn new languages.
But to expect them to understand what I was referencing in a lecture or written assignment without the benefit of these definitions and life examples might have come across as egotistical or arrogant. Standing in front of a group of people trying to get their lives together after years of squandering resources, they didn’t need as one participant told me, ” A lot of smart sounding words that I don’t understand.”
At this point, I began each lecture with, “We all use language that’s familiar to us. If I use a word you don’t know, raise your hand. When you tell me you didn’t understand a word, it allows me to say it another way, and that means that more people are likely to understand the word or concept, so I want to thank you in advance for letting me know.”
Sometimes, writers do the same thing with other topics; they use words that aren’t common. However, in technical writing, they may need to use specific terms or phrases that aren’t part of our everyday language. It’s okay to use a filler word if it adds context to the writing. Decide if the word’s purpose is helpful or beneficial, and if it is, then use it. It’s helpful in those cases for the writer to explain or give us a link to learn more about it if we choose.
Don’t use 50-cent or obscure words to describe a simple idea. Readers may assume that that the writer wants us to think they’re more educated than us. I’m sure there’s a quote from a famous author about this, but I’ll reference my grandmother, “No one likes a show-off.”
Verbiage: French for Chatter or Word Count Issues
I’ll get some submissions where there’s an abundance of unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and – the one I dislike the most – additional thoughts in parenthesis. By definition, the parenthesis is a digression, an aside, or afterthought. Now, I’ve added 11 filler words to explain one word that I’m sure most of the readers here understand.
Writers will also get redundant in their submission. They want to adhere to the word count guidelines, so they fill in with different words for verbiage without adding anything more than – you guessed it – more words.
Other than redundant, I’m not sure anyone but my college professor uses any of the following:
See how writing in complex words means the post probably won’t help anyone?
I hope I’ve given enough fillers examples that all of us will go and edit, revise, and proofread with a different intent, – minimizing filler words.
If I haven’t scared you about submitting, please know that Two Drops of Ink is taking submissions – poetry, prose, and problem-solving for the writer and blogger. And remember that together we can edit out those pesky filler words.