Fluff is anything in your writing that doesn’t move the argument or story forward. Every single sentence in an essay or story should be pushing the reader forward, providing good, solid substance for your reader. If it’s not doing that, it’s rather useless.
Fluff is also often overly vague or general, saying things that the reader already knows or saying something so vague that it pretty much says nothing at all.
You want to look for fluff in introductions and conclusions, because this is where they crop up the most. Also, don’t be afraid to write fluff. It can be useful in getting words on the page, and giving you a platform to build on. I often start my introductions with nonsense fluff to help me get past the scary blank page, and I just type without worrying about how smart or profound I sound, circling around the point until I find it. That’s a common writing practice, and it is often full of fluff. The key is to edit after your first draft, and in that editing, delete all the fluff.
Here are some examples of this common writing weakness:
Sex has been a part of human nature since human nature existed. This statement doesn’t say anything the reader doesn’t already know. This is not an effective transition to talking about human sexuality, because it’s so boring it’ll be a wonder if your reader moves past this sentence.
Nowadays, women have more rights. The problem with this bit of fluff is the vagueness of it. When is “nowadays,” what women, and more rights than what/when? Because the sentence doesn’t answer those questions, it simply doesn’t provide us with any relevant information. It pretends to be saying something while saying almost nothing.
Advertisements are all over the place. Like the first example, this sentence simply isn’t giving the reader any new information. Any American academic (the intended audience) would have to be living under a rock to not know about the inundation of advertisements in our everyday lives. Statements like this occur when the writer thinks that putting words down is the task set before them, but it never is. The task at hand is to say something important. Say it loudly and boldly and convincingly. Make it interesting. Make it persuasive. Whatever you do, don’t write boring, inane statements that give me no new information or perspective.
In today’s society, people have the freedom to do just about anything. There are many societies today, so which does the author mean? Modern Indian society? Contemporary geek subculture society? The societies formed by immigrants and former immigrants in the Rio Grande valley? Further, what does “just about anything” mean? The writer here was referring to modern American society. But there, people do not have the freedom to escape their student debts, attend a public university for free, get married to their same-sex partner in many states, or walk around naked in many public areas. The vagueness in this sentence makes it fall apart into nothing, so that it merely takes up space, rather than saying something important, interesting, or at all.
So how to do you fix or avoid this problem? Watch out for it in your conclusions and introductions, and go through your essay with a fine-tooth comb. Aim for clarity and specificity. Ask yourself about every sentence: “Does this further my argument or story? Does it say something specific, interesting, or necessary?” Be brutal with your writing and you will find that your writing is something no one will snooze through.
Return to Common Writing Weaknesses
Written by Courtney Stoker