The English language is lush and sprawling, a bastard tongue incorporating the very best from dozens of other languages. There are about 171,000 words in current use in the English language, plus about 9,500 derivatives. It’s full of beautiful words like mellifluous, defenestrate and muffin.
But it also gives us a boatload of words you don’t really need. These are the rice cake words: fluffy and devoid of nutritional value. They’re puffs of nothingness that get stuck in your sentences and detract from your goals.
Most of these words have legitimate uses; there are reasons they evolved in the language. But that doesn’t mean you need to use them, especially in copywriting. In marketing materials, you’re often pressed for space, as in a brochure. You’re always pressed for reader attention, regardless of the medium. The more you can cut from your writing, the more effective your messages will be. Here are a few words that can (usually) be eliminated:
- The placeholders. And and so are conjunctions. To get grammatical on you, that means they join two clauses together. Many times, they’re used at the beginning of a written sentence. It’s not technically incorrect (despite what your sixth grade English teacher taught you), but it’s often unnecessary. Unlike their fellow conjunction but, which can negate or lessen the impact of the previous sentence, so and and tend to continue the first logical thought. Using them at the beginning of a sentence is verbal tic that’s worked its way into writing. We use these words at the start of spoken sentences to allow our brains time to catch up and form the rest of the sentence. In writing, more often than not, you can jettison these words from your sentence openers.
- Very. Is there a significant difference in the meaning of “the girl walked quickly” and “the girl walked very quickly”? If there is a major difference, maybe the girl instead ran, trotted, jogged, cantered or loped. Instead of tweaking the intensity of a weak word, take the time to find the best word.
- That. This is one of my own writing weaknesses. Lorraine is forever axing thats from my sentences, and she’s right. Often it’s a tangly little word which snarls up the entire sentence. To determine if you need it or not, try cutting it. “I know that I need to go to the store” and “I know I need to go to the store” mean the same thing, but one gets you to the point faster. Scrutinize every that and make sure it earns its keep.
Are there times when you’ll need to use these words? Absolutely. Are there times you’ll want to use them in your marketing copywriting for stylistic reasons? Of course. But ask yourself if the word needs to be there or if you’re enabling rice cake words.