Vague, General Statements and Fluff

Fluff is anything in your writing that doesn’t move the argument or story forward. Every single sentence in your writing should be pushing the reader forward, whether that means building an argument, telling a story, or stirring up their emotions. If a sentence isn’t doing anything in your writing, it doesn’t belong there. It’s fluff.

Fluff in essays is 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. This is a common writing practice; the key is to edit out all that fluff at the end. Yes, even if it’s hundreds of words. It’s done its job and now into the garbage it goes.

Here are some examples of this common writing weakness from my former students’ essays:

Sex has been a part of human nature since human nature existed.┬áThis 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 its vagueness. 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 reader 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 your reader 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, enter private residences without permission, 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.

It can be tempting to think “I would never write a sentence like that!” and simply not worry about fluff in your own writing. But I have been writing for over two decades and I still have to watch for fluff vigilantly. Some of these examples came from otherwise wonderful essays, because all writers, no matter their skill, are susceptible to writing boring, overly vague sentences that take up space and don’t do much else. You cannot usually avoid fluff; you must instead search for it after it’s already written. If you find yourself struggling to identify and eliminate fluff from your writing, you may consider seeking the expertise of a professional ghostwier who can provide valuable insights and help you streamline your content for maximum impact and clarity.

Watch out for fluff 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 relentless and your writing will be all the stronger for it. Moreover, ensure that your writing reflects your intended meaning and is free from unnecessary details or distractions.

Want to be alerted when we publish new writing help? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Return to Common Writing Weaknesses

Written by Courtney Stoker