You may notice that I sometimes refer to student writing as “fluff” or as being “fluffy”. What does this mean? Any time you are inflating your sentences or paragraphs with empty words, you are coating them in fluff.
People typically deploy fluff in a transparent effort to make themselves sound smarter, following the fallacy that if a sentence has more words, it must be BETTER. Not true. If a word or phrase does not add anything, lose it. Instead of saying “The fact that the boy departs bothers the tree” try “The boy’s departure bothers the tree.”
Here are some fluffy sentences. Reduce them down as much as you can, without losing any clarity, and write how many words you used when you are done.
1.There will not be an attempt made to solve this problem, which is very difficult. (15 words)
2.This is not surprising when one considers the history of this movement. (12)
3.It is my speculation that the opponents of the left-wing Antifa movement are still fighting a battle that they cannot possibly win. (22)
4.The survey was sent to faculty at all campuses of the Penn State University system. (15)
5.If patients are unable to decide for themselves regarding medical decisions, family members may express the patient’s wishes. (18)
6.In his short story, called Araby, the author James Joyce takes a hard look at the problems and difficulties caused by a person’s false hope (25)
7.The author took part in the creation and implementation of the study and in particular in the design of the survey instrument. (22)
THE GREAT FLUFFENDERS (The most common empty phrases)
You must eliminate these from your writing.
“Due to the fact that” stinks of fluff and should be “because” or “since”
In most cases, you can lose the phrases that include “author,” “novel/poem/play,” or “character.” “The author John Steinbeck creates the character Curley in the novel Of Mice and Men” should be, “John Steinbeck creates Curley in Of Mice and Men”
When you introduce an author/playwright/poet/important individual for the first time in an essay, use his or her first name. After that, barring any situations that might be confusing, only use the last name. Continually using the full name is a space waster.
THE WORST FLUFFENDER – The Ghost Sentence.This is a phrase that gives the appearance of being significant, but has no substance at all. Think of any phrase that fits into the following rough construct:
“The/this [vague noun] [synonym of “makes”] (a) [magnifying adjective] [synonym of “effect”/vague noun] [locator phrase]”
Ghost Sentences do not clarify anything. Here are some examples.
The scene has a great impact on the novel.
This conversation creates huge tension in the scene.
This theme causes an important problem to the characters.
This moment plays a major role in the character’s development.
The Ghost Sentence hits an astounding number of essays. Please stop.
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