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Lesson 33: Cut the "Fluff"

In this lesson we return to the principle you learned in lesson 24:

In fact, let's start be rereading what Strunk and White have to say about this principle.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessasry sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.


Unecessary sentences are what I call "fluff." Fluff is the stuff that you write when you don't have much to say but you are trying to stretch it out in order to increase the length of your essay.

Personally, I blame teachers for much of the fluff in the world. Their intentions are good, I know. They are trying to get students to write "more." Unfortunatley, the end result is that many students get quite good at "BS-ing" a short paper into a long one.

But longer is not necessarily better, and often it is worse. In writing, "quality is far more important than quantity."

That is why, in my classes, there is no length requirement for your papers, other than:

That's a total of 15 sentences! Anything more is "extra" and will not earn you a better grade, no matter how beatiful those "extra" sentences may be. And yet many students persist in trying to impress with with how much more they can write. Sometimes the "extra" sentences are good and fascinating and a pleasure to read. But many times they are nothing but fluff.

Fluff is especially common near the end of a pragraph, in the part we call a "wrap." Consider the following (slightly exagerrated) example:

One good thing about France is that the food is really cheap. In fact, according to the website French Cuisine, in most restaurants you can buy a full meal for less than $10 U.S. dollars (Jones). That's a great price, isn't it? Think of all the money you'll save on food. You'll be able to use that money to go shopping and you can buy souvenirs for all your friends at home. Everybody loves souvenirs from France. You'll be really popular. This is certainly another reason why France is such a great destination for a vacation.


The sentences in bold, above, are what I call "fluff." They are fairly harmless, but they don't really add to the writer's main point. At worst, they veer off-topic, as in the above example. The writer started the paragraph talking about food, but by the end she is talking about souvenirs. And then she repeats her main thesis (the idea that France is a great vacation destination). The introducion and conclusion are where you want to state and restate your thesis. Repeating your thesis in every paragraph gets boring!

Think like a boxer.

In boxing, you are taught to move in, punch a few times, then move out. You never stay within range of your partner's punches very long, because if you do, you are going to get hit. So a good boxing coach will tell you: As soon as you finish your punching combination—get the hell out of there! Move back out of range! You never end a punching combination with a punch. You always end with that last shuffling step backward.

Shuffle in, punch, shufffle out.

It's the same with writing. (We're talking here about a specific kind of writing—academic writing based on sandwich paragraphs). Once you've made your point, get out of there! Find a way to wrap up the paragraph quickly. The longer you stay in that paragraph, writing a bunch of fluff, the greater the chances are that you are going to make mistakes. You are going to veer off-topic or you are going to bore your reader.

So think like a boxer. Shuffle in, punch, shuffle out. Your topic sentence is the way you get into a paragraph. Your evidence is the punch. Your wrap is how you get out. Don't linger longer than you have to. Get out as soon as possible (unless you really do have to "BS" two sentences into a two-page paper).

Longer Paragraphs

Of course, sometimes you want to write a longer paragraph. For example, you may have more evidence that supports your topic sentence. In that case, go ahead: pile on the evidence! (Just be sure to cite each of your sources). Or perhaps you have a lot of interesting things to say about your evidence. Then go ahead, write a long "wrap."

Just make sure that you stick to the main point—the claim that you make in your topic sentence. Don't veer off topic. And if you feel tempted to veer off topic, start a new paragraph. As a general rule:

Stated differently:

Whenever a paragraph starts to feel too cluttered, break it up. Here is one last piece of advice to remember:

Lesson Steps


Take a second look at your paragraphs. Do any of them contain fluff? Have you written sentences that do not contribute anything interesting to your essay?

Cut them out!

Note: Perhaps you're thinking, "None of my wraps feels essential. They all feel like fluff." I understand. Wraps often do feel unecessary. Still, you need at least three sentences in a paragraph or else it starts to feel awkwardly short.

So if your evidence is short (just one sentence) then you need at least one more sentence to round out the paragraph, as lame as that sentence might be. But if your evidence is two or more sentences, you may be able to leave out the wrap altogether.

The point is, try to make every sentence count. Or, as Strunk and White would put it, every words should "tell."


Did you restate your thesis in any of your body paragraphs?

  • Your introduction and conclusion are the places where you state and restate your thesis. Do not restate your thesis in your body paragraphs! (You can, however, restate the topic sentence).

Congratulations! You're done with this lesson.