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effective communication in engineering, scientific, and other technical environments

Cutting the “Fluff”

Dandelion_fluffGood professional technical writing involves a struggle between conciseness and completeness. Writers need to provide the evidence and reasoning to justify their claims in the shortest space possible. Cutting too much or the wrong things, however, can damage your ability to support your decisions. It’s important, then, to be able to differentiate between “fluff,” unnecessary language adding little to nothing of value to the document, and the essence of the document. Celia Elliott’s lecture on “fluff”  helps do that by classifying “fluff” into four distinct categories, which we can vigorously seek out and eliminate:

  1. Unnecessary words, redundancies, and wordy expressions
  2. Pointless modifiers
  3. Tautologies
  4. Meaningless generalities

In this short article, we look at the first category. Unnecessary words, redundancies, and wordy expressions can slip in very easily, but they’re also easy to identify. Consider the following simple sentence:

Some fluorophores appear green in colour, while others appear red in colour. 

If we ask what information is redundant, we should see that “in colour” is unnecessary: green and red already imply colour. Eliminating four words might not seem like much, but they constitute 30% of the above sentence. Imagine cutting 30% from your entire document!

More on “fluff,” and how to get rid of it, on this page.

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