Whether you’re writing a press release, an email, or a memo, it takes skill to craft effective messages. Useless words and phrases, like cliches and overused adverbs, add no real value to your messages and instead mute your messages and drive readers away.


In publishing, we’re limited by word counts, and space is at a premium. Every word is critical when faced with limited space. By filling in space with useless words, you’re limiting your message’s potential to have an impact. You may have something extraordinary to say, but when you stop mid-sentence to inject a useless word or phrase, your message halts and drifts off point, causing readers to lose interest.


“The Road to Hell is Paved With Adverbs”

Stephen King’s famous quote is the perfect descriptor for adverbs. Adverbs tell the who, what, where, and why in a story, but mostly they take up precious space and add little to no value to sentences. They’re also annoying when used in abundance, which they typically are. The next time you’re tempted to write “incredibly,” “sadly,” “happily,” or some such other useless adverb in a sentence, ask yourself if it’s necessary. If not, hit delete.


Adverbs, such as “on the other hand,” also serve little purpose. Their main function is stalling a sentence — putting it on pause while the writer takes a breather to gather their thoughts. Another example is “if you really think about it.” If I’m reading your article, then I’m really thinking about it. No need to remind me to think.


Filler Words Show Your Inexperience

Fluff is a term used in online publishing that refers to filler words and phrases. Adverbs don’t exactly fall into the “fluff” category, but adverbs are always accomplices. Fluff is full of filler words, phrases, and cliches that have no justifiable reason to be in a piece of writing, other than the fact that the writer has nothing to say.


In the online space, readers are scanners, and sometimes they don’t make it past the headline. When readers do click on your article, they want to be amazed. Content filled with fluff offers readers nothing but just that: Fluff — useless words and phrases. It also shows the writer’s inexperience. Writers who know their topics write with authority and don’t rely on useless words to push them toward their word count.


Take it From the Experts

Stephen King said it best in his quote about adverbs, and other writers have shared in his hatred of useless words. Ernest Hemingway’s brevity is legendary. There’s even a Hemingway app that scans for useless phrases and offers suggestions for improvement. The best way to avoid falling into the trap of filling your writing with useless words is to know your topic and do your research. If you don’t, you’ll fall into an abyss of adverbs and cliches, and you’ll take your readers down with you.


What useless words and phrases hurt messages? Do you catch yourself using any? Leave your insights in the comments section, or tweet me at @nataliepetitto.