What Are Filler Words, and How To Increase Readability?
In speech, filler words are short, meaningless words (or sounds) we use to fill the little pauses that occur while we decide what we’re going to say next. They’re the ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ and ‘ers’ that litter our conversations, whether or not we like it. But although these brief filler words don’t add any meaning to your statements, they perform a function in speech. They allow you to take a second and think about what you’re going to say next. They let others know that you’re not quite finished speaking yet, even if you’ve paused for a moment.
Filler words add no meaning or value to a sentence and simply fill the space and decrease the readability of your manuscript. #amwriting #amwritingfantasy #authorlife #writingcommunity #writingtips #author #blog #australiaTweet
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Filler Words in Writing
Filler words take a distinct form in writing. Few of us actually write out “uh” or “um” when we’re composing an email. Instead, those little pauses manifest as unnecessary adverbs and empty phrases that add length but not substance to what you’re trying to say. Fortunately, written communication gives us the opportunity to edit ourselves before we send our message out to the world.
Filler words are words that add no meaning or value to a sentence and simply “fill” the space. They can be removed or replaced, but often inadvertently creep up in writing since we’re so used to using them in our speech. Having too many filler words decreases the readability of your manuscript, making it hard for the reader to engage in the action, plot, and characters of your story.
Below are examples of the most common filler words, according to InfusionMedia.
Most filler words are adverbs and adjectives. How do we cut them from our Manuscript? Use William Zinsser’s technique and read your sentences aloud. Note the rhythm and sound. Do your adverbs and adjectives overpower your verbs? Then get rid of the adverbs and adjectives. The action is what’s important.
Wordy: For all intents and purposes, this project will be outsourced.
Concise: This project will be outsourced.
Wordy: Needless to say, I think we should get grilled cheese.
Concise: We should get grilled cheese.
Basically is a filler word that appears both in speech and writing. We often use basically when we’re exaggerating for effect or making a statement that is generally true but may have some rare exceptions. Sometimes basically is an important qualifier, but often, it’s clear from context that you’re not making a claim of absolute truth.
Okay: Basically, I could eat ice cream for any meal.
Better: I could eat ice cream for any meal.
Check out some of your recent emails. Do you tend to use the word just a lot? Is it just a way to make things sound more polite? Do you like to just follow up on things? Is there anything you were just wondering? Try deleting this one from your sentences and seeing if there’s really a difference in meaning. Most of the time, you’ll find there’s not.
Okay: Could you just send me that file when you have a moment?
Better: Could you send me that file when you have a moment?
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We reach for adverbs like very, greatly, and highly to add intensity, but the truth is that these words are so overused that readers tend to gloss right over them. You’re better off picking a more vivid word to describe what you’re talking about.
Okay: The new pizza place downtown was very busy this afternoon.
Better: The new pizza place downtown was bustling this afternoon.
Needless to say
If it’s really needless to say, why say it? If it does need to be said, don’t undercut yourself!
Okay: Needless to say, my haircut looked awful.
Better: My haircut looked awful.
For what it’s worth
We tend to fall back on this phrase when we want to make a point but we’re not sure if others will be happy about it. Leave it out and your sentence will be more concise and sound more confident.
Okay: For what it’s worth, we could test our idea with a focus group before moving forward.
Better: We could test our idea with a focus group before moving forward.
Read your book aloud. It stops the skimming over filler words and slows down the reading pace to let you find those filler words. Below, I have a list of other filler words to spot in your manuscript.
Until next time, keep your words sharp and sword sheathed.
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