Welcome to another post in the Content Creator Basics series. Here, we’ll share our go-to tips for flexing your freelance writer muscles—whether you’re writing content for someone else or for your own blog. Check in each month for more tips to sharpen your online content writing skills.
Fluff involves irrelevant information, including information that doesn’t relate to a client’s product or brand and highly specific or anecdotal scenarios that won’t resonate with many people. The category also includes redundant examples and uncited information that is hard to believe.
Essentially, fluffy writing contains basic, surface-level content that reads like filler information rather than useful content. Here, we’ll take a deep dive into why and how we can cut the fluff out of our online writing.
Why Is Cutting Fluff Important to Clients?
Most clients want writing to reflect their industry to show that they are an industry leader. This usually means they avoid personal anecdotes that affect such a small percentage of their audience.
Writing should thus be more fleshed out with better content and more relatable information than social media has, or else readers might just click away to find a better source. Avoiding fluffy content is important because it establishes the blog and your client as reliable resources to both readers and search engines. This is especially important if your client is interested in SEO.
Why Is Cutting Fluff Important to Readers?
Avoiding fluff is important not only for the clients you write for but for their consumers. Readers appreciate when writing can be clearly tied to what they are looking for. Information that doesn’t relate to a product or service is confusing and could cause them to look for a different website that provides relevant information they are looking for.
Additionally, readers typically either want to learn new things or to be entertained. When reading nonfiction blogs, they generally want information rather than entertainment, so anything that doesn’t provide new information will likely be scanned, not read.
If the only useful information in a post is hidden between anecdotes or in the middle of wordy sentences, the reader might give up and leave the page. As writers, we want to provide easily scannable content so the readers can immediately glean what they need to know.
How Do You Identify Fluff in Your Writing?
Fluff has a lot of subcategories, including excessively wordy constructions used to hit word count and unhelpful content that doesn’t provide any useful information. Fluff might even simply be stating the obvious and then repeating the same basic points throughout a piece. Let’s go into detail on a few of these.
Padding Word Count
Some words add less value than others do. (See this post on authority and expertise for more information.) If you take out all the words that don’t add value to the blog, do you still hit the required word count? If not, add some more information or ideas instead of simply more words. That way, you’ll add more value to the piece instead of just meeting a requirement.
Word count minimums try to lift the quality of the writing by compelling writers to add more ideas or a different take on a subject. Excessively wordy constructions don’t help your writing, but high-quality information does.
Here’s an example of a fluffy sentence and one way to pare it down.
Fluffy: It is commonly believed that sugar makes children hyperactive; however, most scientists disagree with that widely held theory.
This sentence uses unnecessary adverbs and a passive construction. It’s not a terrible sentence, but it could be a lot better.
Less Fluffy: Many parents believe that sugar makes children hyperactive, but most scientists disagree.
This example could actually be okay, depending on what the focus of the sentence is supposed to be. If you are specifically highlighting the difference between what most people believe and what science actually points to, this is perfect. If you are focusing on invalidating the myth, it is still too fluffy, with the extra words detracting from the point of the sentence. While some of the unnecessary words are cut out, not all the unessential information is.
Not Fluffy: Scientists don’t think sugar makes children hyperactive.
Generally, this format is best when it comes to avoiding the use of fluff because all of the superfluous information and words are cut out. If a sentence like this is a little too impersonal for your audience, however, you might want to go with the “Less Fluffy” example. Regardless, make sure to remove any unimportant words.
Keyword stuffing is another kind of fluff that particularly hurts a website’s SEO. Even if it’s not on purpose, if Google or another search engine detects a high word density, it may penalize the website for being too spammy. Typically, the best practice is to keep word density under about 2%, but some clients will be more specific than that, so make sure to check what their standards are.
A good, quick check is to see if your writing can still be read aloud comfortably. Alternatively, you can use a site like WordCounter to check the exact percentages.
We’ve talked about fluffy sentences and fluffy words, but what about fluffy sections? We don’t want to insult the reader’s intelligence by rehashing the same information too much.
For example, if you are writing about why people like Captain America, it would be redundant to say that fans like him because of his beautiful face, his nice abs, and his lovely hair. While they are technically three different points, the basis of each is the same: people like Captain America because of his looks. To stretch that single basis out into three different sections would be redundant because it’s rehashing the same thing.
Instead, you would want to include other reasons people might like Captain America, such as his commitment to what he believes is right or how he treats Peggy Carter, and keep all the information about looks to a single paragraph. Including different information helps readers learn new things throughout the entire piece and encourages them to keep reading past the first paragraph.
Another problem that a writer may run into is accidentally including hard-to-verify information. Sometimes it doesn’t seem hard to verify because it’s something that you already know or that you’ve read before, so here are a couple of questions to ask yourself if you’re not sure if you should include a citation:
- Is the information easy to find on Google? If multiple pages confirm the fact on the first page of Google, you likely don’t need a citation.
- Is this something that you knew without having to research anything about it? If not, you should provide a citation.
- Is this something that you only know because of special circumstances, like it’s within your field of work or you read it somewhere once? If so, find something that corroborates the information and cite it.
- Is this something that your mom, grandpa, or younger sibling would know? If not, it’s probably not common knowledge—cite it.
If you’re not sure about the answer to any of these questions, pull up a search engine and find a citation.
This last type of fluffy writing is especially important because readers also want to identify with your writing and find ways to relate to it. Writing that is too anecdotal can stop readers from relating to a piece. For example, there are a few different types of people who are likely to search for the keyword “plumber.”
Many people who search the web for plumbers may need to unclog their drains. Fewer people might need to remove a tree because roots have grown through a pipe and caused a clog, but this topic is still relevant to some—it could even provide some necessary information to anyone who is faced with that problem. Almost no one, however, has a daughter who threw her Transformers into the toilet and caused a citywide clog because her toys made their way into the main lines of the city, for example, so such an approach would not be helpful.
Not only is anecdotal information typically unhelpful to most people, but it is also hard to read. Anecdotal or highly specific content can be less conducive to adding headings and keeping paragraphs short. Additionally, someone whose daughter throws things into toilets would still benefit from a blog written about unclogging toilets, but not vice versa. It is better to focus on a broader problem that multiple people may be facing than on an overly specific scenario or setup of the audience. Because the focus gets shifted onto a larger audience, it makes your writing more relatable and easier to read.
Good writing engages readers. One of the best ways to engage readers is to teach them things they didn’t already know rather than rehashing what has become “old news.” Readers want to gain new information, not read a lot of meaningless words or stories. Make sure that your writing contains new ideas, different takes, or at the very least, multiple pieces of relevant information. Your readers will thank you by not clicking away before they finish reading what you have to say.