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Declutter Your Prose: Three More Phrases to Avoid

Want to be a better editor? Here are more phrases to excise from your writing.

In the spring, we noted some examples of phrases that might be distracting or unnecessary in your prose. Since many of you found these suggestions helpful, here’s another round of phrases to avoid:

1. In today’s blog…

Interested in more blog vs. post discussions? Read Slate’s take, Meg Pickard’s note on terminology, and Kristen Havens’ semantics lesson.

blog is your site, posts and pages and all. What you probably meant to write is: “In today’s post…” Or: “In today’s blog post…” Posts make up the content you create on a regular basis, while your blog is your complete online home, your site, on which you publish your posts.

That said, think back to other introductory phrases we’ve talked about: “In this post, I will explain…” or “Today, I will write about…”

This phrase, too, is unnecessary:

In today’s blog, I’d like to share some of the best commentaries I’ve read about the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri.

View your opening lines with a critical eye — there’s likely a word, or three, that you can cut.

2. Click on this link to read more.

Links are organic parts of our posts and essential to the online reading experience. When embedding links in your text, don’t disrupt the reader — in other words, the best “link drops” are the ones you don’t even notice. Let’s say you’re writing about a story you read. You might write:

I read a recent article about a couple who decided to have part of their son’s brain surgically removed. You can click on this link to read it: http://blog.longreads.com/2014/08/26/what-happens-when-you-remove-half-a-brain-from-someone/

There’s nothing wrong with the above — ultimately, you direct the reader to the story to which you’re referring. But here’s a more seamless way to approach it:

I read a recent article about a couple who decided to have part of their son’s brain surgically removed.

Embedding a link in part of your text cleans up your prose.

Likewise, a phrase like “check out the blog/website here” — while not incorrect — is a bulky way to direct your readers elsewhere. Instead of:

I love the memoir and essays from the women writers at Vela magazine. Check out the website here: http://velamag.com/

Try this:

I love the memoir and essays from the women writers at Vela magazine.

3. In order to / as you can see / I think that

No, it’s not a crime to use any of these (and similar) phrases. But do pay attention to each word in a sentence. When you proofread a post before clicking “Publish,” take a (virtual) red pen to your prose, excising extraneous text — not just adverbs and single words, but casual and conversational “filler” phrases.

* This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. You’ll find that sometimes you need a phrase — for dialogue, to preserve voice, to create a rhythm, and more.

I’ve sometimes let these phrases be, too scared to strip a thought or emotion naked. But once I remove them, I realize the writing is sharper, tighter, and better.*

Consider this passage, pared to the essentials:

In order To write my news story, I interviewed a dozen spectators to get a fuller picture of what happened. But it wasn’t so easy, as you can see. Some people don’t like talking to strangers about neighborhood matters. I think that If I could redo the experience, I’d have better prepared with more research about the community.

It’s easy for excess to creep into our writing, so take the time to read your work before publishing. Are there other phrases that deserve the cut?

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  1. Great post, I just went and deleted an “As you can see” from my recent blog entry.

    It always feels good to find more of these phrases that can be simply eliminated. I’m a big fan of axing “begin to” and “start to” and all their variations. That goes for general writing, not just blog writing, but I think it’s applicable.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I started having a friend read my more controversial posts before I hit “publish”. She helped me discover my overuse of most transitional phrases. Trying to break the habit of and, however, so, because, etc.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Now that you said so, (lol) These phrases are the equivalent of those terrible introductions we all made when presenting a project at school… and I hated them back then. It didn’t occur to me that I was still using them. Ouch!

    Thanks for this precise advice. Sometimes it’s not obvious enough to read cut a phrase or two; you need a better clue about what you can actually cut to improve your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do write a lot of however, nonetheless, and, so, well, because, but, then, than, etc. for transition. Quite frankly I’m not sure if any of them are correct. I was told way back in the day to not write how you talk. It is kind of hard not to write how I talk unless I am writing a formal paper in APA or MLA style. Thank you for the post by the way!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same for me! I wrote so many papers in formal APA for Grad school that I feel my blog is where I can “let my hair down” so to speak. I do appreciate the tips. All of my college professors in undergrad never allowed excess words. Ever. I once had to write a huge paper without any “Be” verbs. Talk about challenging! It’s what I get for being an English major. It did prepare me for Grad school. The writing tips are wonderful here. :)

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  5. “In order to” was one that took me years to remember. It’s amazing how easily these sorts of phrases can slip into your writing.

    Similar to “I think that” is “the fact that.” I see this in business writing all the time.

    Another one I’m seeing more and more of is people starting a sentence with “that said.”

    That said, I think this was a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The saddest thing is that I was convinced I should use this kind of language in writing. Hey, there’s an entire chapter on my English book dedicated to phrases as “In order to”.

      My mother language is Spanish. Now, I’m wondering what else is wrong on that book…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Exactly! I’ve been taught to include phrases like that, and the textbooks of today still encourage students to use them. I’m a Norwegian teacher of English, and now I wonder what else might be off in the textbooks, too :/ Really interesting post!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Pati, Srumme: the books are not wrong, per se. A phrase like “in order to” can be useful as a transition between ideas, likewise paragraphs. But they’re not required, depending on your skill level with effective writing. Be sure not to use them as a means to sound like you are a good writer, that will surely fail.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I am the worst offender of cut and paste linking. I need to step up my game and start embedding instead. I’ve been at this long enough, I really have no excuse beyond sheer procrastination….oh, before my next post I’ll learn how to do that. I will pledge here and now…no more c&p , I WILL learn to to do embedded links!!!! Now, community, hold me to it :)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My candidate for most useless introductory phrase: “I haven’t written in a while . . ”

    Good post. I recognize some of those clutter phrases in my own writing. :-(

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  8. Excellent! I have been consciously removing ‘I think..” recently as I have realised that it adds nothing. Blog and post are easily confused, but I hope not by me! The thing that slightly irritates me is when people apologise for not posting recently or that they are going away and won’t be able to post. There is no need! We’ll pick up the posts when you’re back and have time to write.

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