Avoiding Redundancy and Fluff in Business Writing

Ernest Hemingway writing

Take a page from Hemingway– write copy that’s short, sweet and fluff free.
Photo: ECW SEO

Ernest Hemingway wasn’t a fan of fluff writing. Legend has it that when the author was challenged to write a story using only six words, Hemingway responded with “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

Hemingway’s six word story proves you don’t need wordiness, redundancy or filler to write descriptive copy that invokes an emotional response. You just need to speak to what is familiar to the reader and carefully choose your words.

Consider the following sentence:

Your project will be facilitated by our extremely talented and highly meticulous customer representatives.

Grandiose, isn’t it? It practically requires multiple readings to understand. Compare it to a more concise sentence that’s had the fluff trimmed out:

Our talented representatives will handle your project with care.

Fluffy writing is like junk food—it has no real value. Sure it fills up a page, but it leaves the audience hungry for something better (if they don’t quit reading it altogether). You want your copy to be like an entrée at a five-star restaurant: compact yet filling, expertly crafted with precision and memorable enough for repeat business.

Create a plan

When you write without a plan, you have a tendency to ramble as new points and side tangents come to you. Before you sit down to write any copy, make a rough outline of what you want to get across. This helps you to eliminate fluff before it happens by making sure your content is tight and informative. When you do start writing, you’ll find it easier to stay on topic and compose your thoughts in an orderly, economical fashion.

Keep it relevant

Even in our day-to-day conversations, it’s tempting to go off on a tangent when something grabs your attention. This can also be a problem when your copywriting begins to enter territory that’s no longer relevant.

A flyer advertising the grand opening of a new nail salon shouldn’t spend a lot of time describing the company’s mission statement or its various hygiene and safety standards; that sort of thing belongs in a different marketing piece. Stay focused on your goals and keep your writing on task.

Sign: This office will not tolerate redundancy in this office

Cut back on redundancy by eliminating repetitive words and phrases.
Photo Credit: MLCastle

Eliminate redundancy

Resist the urge to fill up your copy using two or more words that mean the same thing. For example, “We keep your investments safe and secure” can be cut down to just “We keep your investments safe.” By avoiding redundancy, the message is still clear–only now it’s free from fluff.

The same thing goes for redundant content. If you’ve said something once, you don’t need to say it again in a different context. Trust that the reader got the information the first time. For example, if you were writing content about washing a cat and you mention that dish soap is a safe alternative to cat shampoo, you wouldn’t need to keep mentioning it every time you mentioned the shampoo.

Don’t write a phrase when one word will do

Sometimes you can get away with cutting out entire phrases and replacing them with one word that sums up everything you want to say. For example, “Perform this step only after everything else has first been completed” is too long and fluffy while “Perform this step last” gets to the point.

It’s better to use one word with weight then a bunch of redundant words that mean the same thing, even when those words invoke different concepts. For example, instead of saying “I’m angry, upset and emotional,” you might just say “I’m enraged.”

Don’t tell the reader what he already knows

Eliminating fluff isn’t just about using the right words—it’s about creating content that has real value. If you’re just repeating what the reader already knows or spouting off common knowledge, then the content itself is fluff, even if it’s well-written and to the point.

Many writers run into this problem when they try to make their content accessible to everyone. However, copywriting is about attracting a particular audience, so your content should speak directly to your audience and what they know.

For example, a page of your brochure entitled “7 Tax tips for a bigger refund” wouldn’t need a section explaining how taxes work, what they pay for and when they’re filed each year. The taxpaying audience would already know this information and would be more interested in the tips you promised to deliver. If you don’t deliver right away, they’ll lose interest.

Avoiding Redundant Words

Get rid of the empty words from your copy, such as “very” and “there”
Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley

Remove words that don’t add anything

The fluffiest words of all are the ones that add absolutely no value to your copy. These are words like “very” or “there” that would be better replaced with something weightier.

Why say “Our staff is very friendly” when you can simply say “Our staff is friendly?” Is there really that big of a difference between a “friendly” person and a “very friendly” person?

Instead of saying “There is a free gift with every purchase,” write “Enjoy a free gift with purchase.” This sentence has a bit more emotional resonance to it; it’s not just a free gift, it’s a free gift you’ll enjoy. We also eliminated the word “every” which in this case is already implied; it wouldn’t make much sense to only give a free gift to some buyers.

Use smaller words

If you’re targeting a general American audience, there’s a decent chance that half of the people reading your content are doing so at an 8th grade reading level or lower. You can’t fill up your copy with a bunch of long, complicated words because you’ll run the risk of losing more than half of your audience.

Keep your language simple and your words small. Beer should be “fizzy,” not “effervescent.” Candy should be “sour,” not “acerbic.” It may not be the way you talk, but you have to keep in mind that your audience may have a more limited vocabulary than you. Shorter words also tend to be more direct and quicker to read; it will take your audience much less time to understand your point if you use a word that they can easily comprehend.

Write in active voice

Once you understand how to use active vs. passive voice, you can use it to make your writing more direct and confident without relying on extra fluff.

Saying “A copy of your invoice will be e-mailed to you by our representatives” gets the point across, but in a slightly roundabout and confusing way. You can eliminate a few words and make that fluffy sentence easier to understand by switching to active voie: “We’ll e-mail you a copy of your invoice.”

Edit like a serial killer

Serial Killer with Hockey MaskPut on your hockey mask and break out the machete because the only way to eliminate that leftover fluff in your copy is to slash and gut it. Take some time away from your piece once you’ve completed your first draft so you can see your work from a fresh perspective. This will make it easier for you to spot the fluffy words and phrases.

Sometimes it can be hard to cut what’s nonessential because we become attached to parts of our work that we love, but aren’t necessarily helping the mesasge. Again, think like a serial killer and save a “trophy” from every piece of unnecessary writing you murder. It’s easier to part with bad content if you think you’ll be able to use it again—even if you never actually do.

It helps to have a second set of eyes look over your work to see if they can find any fluff you might have missed. Read your copy out loud to find even more extraneous writing to eliminate. Start with any section where you trip over your words or have to take a breath mid-sentence–that’s usually where the fluffy writing is hiding.

Conclusion

We can’t all be Hemingway–some of us just love our colorful language and side-anecdotes too much to be terse all the time. However, that’s okay to an extent. Eliminating redundancy and fluff shouldn’t have an adverse effect on your tone, it should just be a way to make sure your message isn’t being muddled and that your audience takes the action you want them to perform.





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