When it comes to writing, I can’t stand messy drafts full of fluffed-out words and over-extended sentences. That’s why I’ve developed a system for removing clutter from my writing.
How can you get rid of cluttered writing?
You can get rid of cluttered writing by clarifying your thinking and removing unnecessary words and details. You can also shorten your paragraphs, sentences, clauses, and phrases. Use strong and vivid verbs that clearly and directly state your point. Make every word prove why it needs to be there.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to get rid of cluttered writing.
22 Easy Ways To Get Rid of Cluttered Writing
Clutter. It’s the bane of any author’s existence.
It’s that feeling when you’ve been working on a paper, article, blog post, email, or essay for hours, and all you have to show for it is 1,500 words of bloated fluff.
It’s frustrating, it’s maddening, and it can be enough to make you want to tear your hair out.
But what exactly is clutter? And more importantly, how can you avoid it?
Here are 22 easy ways to get rid of writing clutter forever.
1) Identify All the Types of Clutter
Clutter can take many forms, from extra words and phrases that don’t add anything to your meaning to unnecessary details that bog down your argument.
That’s why the first step to decluttering your writing is to identify all the different types of clutter.
Here are the five main types of clutter:
- Author Intrusion Clutter
- Fluffly Clutter
- Word Clutter
- Detail Clutter
- Format Clutter
We’ll explore each of these main clutter types throughout the rest of this guide.
2) Write More Directly
One of the best ways to make your writing more concise and easier to understand is to stop beating around the bush and get straight to the point.
Write as if you are explaining the concept to a friend or family member who knows nothing about the topic.
Better yet, pretend you’re talking to a young child.
This will force you to be clear and concise in your explanations, and it will also help you to focus on the most important points.
Not only will this make your writing more accessible, but it will also prevent misunderstandings.
3) Shorten Paragraphs
I’m pretty sure I speak for the majority when I say that we prefer our information in quick, easy-to-digest snippets.
That’s why I advocate for shorter paragraphs.
They break up the text and provide visual Interest – not to mention, they’re quicker to read. Ditch the long paragraphs and opt for something shorter and sweeter.
I like my paragraphs between 1-3 sentences at most.
Trust me, your readers will thank you for it.
4) Shorten Sentences
Cutting down on sentence length will declutter your writing and make it more direct.
It’s like when you’re trying to stuff too much into your suitcase and everything ends up wrinkled – the same goes for your sentences. When you try to pack too many ideas into one sentence, it ends up looking messy and confusing.
Breaking things down into shorter, simpler sentences makes your writing look neater and easier to read.
5) Shorten Clauses
I’m a firm believer that shorter is almost always better when it comes to clauses.
I mean, who really wants to slog through a sentence that’s been needlessly padded out with extra words? Not only is it a waste of time, but it also clutters up your writing and makes it harder for readers to understand your point.
By tightening up your clauses tight, you can avoid all of that hassle and make sure that your readers always know exactly what you’re trying to say.
6) Shorten Phrases
This is simply using too many words when fewer would do just as well.
For example, instead of saying “in order to,” you could just say “to.” Or instead of “the fact that,” you could just say “that.”
Not only does wordy clutter make your writing sound bloated and cumbersome, but it can also be confusing for readers.
Whenever possible, try to streamline your language and make your point as concisely as possible.
7) Shorten Words
Word economy is key when you’re writing.
The shorter your words, the less clutter there is in your writing. It’s that simple. When you use long words, you’re just padding out your writing and making it harder for your reader to understand what you’re trying to say.
You might be surprised at how much more effective your writing can be when you cut out the dead weight.
A good way to find better words is to use a good thesaurus. I wrote a good article about the best thesaurus for writers over here.
8) Reduce and Replace Cliches
If you want to instantly improve your writing, there’s one surefire way to do it: get rid of all the cliches.
Yes, that means no more “thinking outside the box,” “riding the wave,” or “biting off more than you can chew.” Cliches come across as unoriginal, vague, and meaningless.
They add nothing to your writing except word count.
9) Replace There Sentences
Don’t start a lot of sentences with “there is” or “there are.”
That just takes up valuable real estate in your sentence. It’s like saying, “In my opinion, I think that maybe possibly…”.
Just get to the point.
For example, compare these two sentences: “There are many reasons why families choose to homeschool their children” and “Families choose to homeschool their children for many reasons.”
See how much cleaner that second sentence sounds?
Of course, that doesn’t mean taking out every sentence that starts with a “there.” Simply see if you can rework most of your sentences.
10) Think More Clearly
When you’re writing, it’s important to get your thoughts down quickly and efficiently.
However, this can sometimes lead to a cluttered and confusing final product. One way to avoid this is to take the time to clarify your thinking before you start writing.
Take a few minutes to brainstorm your topic, organize your thoughts, and develop a clear plan for what you want to say.
This extra bit of effort upfront will pay off in the form of a cleaner, more polished final draft.
Here is a good video about how to declutter your brain:
11) Use Active Voice
The active voice is your best friend when it comes to decluttering your writing.
In the active voice, the subject of the sentence is the one doing the verb. For example, “The cat ate the mouse.” It’s straightforward, it’s concise, and there’s no room for confusion.
The passive voice, on the other hand, is when the subject of the sentence is being acted upon by the verb.
For example, “The mouse was eaten by the cat.”
Not only is this sentence longer and more complicated, but it’s also looser and less dramatic.
12) Use Strong Verbs
Verbs are the lifeblood of language.
They provide the action and movement that keeps sentences interesting and engaging. In many cases, a strong verb can replace a whole host of weaker words, making your writing more concise and impactful.
For example, consider the following two sentences:
- The cat slept for a long time on the bed.
- The cat slumbered on the bed.
While both sentences convey the same basic meaning, the second sentence is more efficient and packs a greater punch.
When writing, always take a moment to consider whether a more powerful verb might serve your purpose better.
13) Use Vivid Verbs
Focus on reducing your use of “to be” verbs. F
or instance, instead of saying, “The problem was that the store was out of stock,” you could simply say, “The problem was that the store ran out of stock.”
This may seem like a small change, but it can make a big difference in the overall clarity of your writing.
In addition to using more precise verbs, you should also strive to use more vivid and concrete language. Instead of saying, “I walked to the store,” you could say, “I strolled to the store.”
This not only sounds more interesting, but it also helps to create a stronger mental image for the reader.
14) Remove Repetition
Don’t repeat words, phrases, ideas, concepts, or sentence structures.
Unless you’re using a repeated word, phrase, or image for a specific point, take it out of your writing.
Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong.
Repetition is usually one of the most difficult things to avoid in writing because it’s so easy to slip into a comfortable groove and just keep repeating yourself without even realizing it.
The key is to remove repetition in the editing phase.
Remove unnecessary repetition and vary everything else:
- Vary your word choice
- Vary your phrases
- Vary your sentence structure
When you repeat yourself, you’re just taking up space with words that don’t really add anything new or interesting to your piece. On the other hand, when you vary your language and sentence structure, you keep your readers engaged and prevent them from getting bored or lost.
15) Delete Details
Details are great…in moderation.
But when they start crowding out the main points of your story or essay, they become a problem.
So if you find yourself getting lost in a sea of minor details, ask yourself if they’re really necessary for understanding the overall argument or point you’re trying to make.
If not, then cut them out and save them for another time.
16) Start Fast
You know that feeling you get when you’re about to start your favorite TV show but you have to watch the 8 minutes of introduction and introductory recap first?
Or when you look a recipe up online, but first you have to suffer through the author’s origin story?
In the same way, long and wordy introductions clutter up your writing.
If you’re struggling with introductions, ask yourself: what is the one thing I want my reader to know? Once you know that, starting your email or paper will be a breeze.
Just tell them what you’re going to tell them (the thesis or main point), and then get right to the body (the meat) of your writing.
Avoid winding up your pitch, idling your engine, and throat clearing in your introduction.
17) Remove Fluff Stories and Phrases
Fluffy clutter is all about adding extra words or details that don’t really contribute anything to the piece.
A surefire way to spot this kind of clutter is to ask yourself if the sentence would still make sense if you removed the word or phrase in question.
If not, then it’s probably just taking up space and can be safely deleted.
The same goes for stories.
A good, personal story can elevate and expand your writing. However, if the story is too long, too wordy, or too unrelated to the main point, you can safely edit it down or delete it altogether.
18) Remove Author Intrusion
I call this Author Intrusion Clutter.
This is when the author’s voice intrudes on the text, making it feel jarring or disruptive. For example, starting a sentence with “I think” or using cutesy terms like “happy little trees.”
If you’re writing something, the reader assumes you are sharing your personal thoughts.
Author Intrusion Clutter can be tricky to spot, but once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to fix.
Just remove any unnecessary words or phrases that make the text sound like it’s coming from your high school English teacher instead of from you.
19) Don’t Be Showy
In these days of short attention spans and even shorter writing, it’s tempting to add a little extra flair to your work in order to stand out.
However, this can often backfire, leading to clutter and confusion.
After all, if everything is important, then nothing is.
A simpler approach is often more effective, as it allows your readers to focus on the essentials.
By streamlining your writing and cutting out the unnecessary frills, you can create a clear and powerful message that will resonate with your audience.
20) Use More Lists
I am a big fan of lists.
Here is how using more lists can help declutter your writing:
- By their very nature, lists are concise and to the point.
- Lists make information more scannable and readable.
- Lists force you to highlight only the critical information.
As a result, your writing will be tighter and more scannable.
21) Reduce Images
This is usually more of a problem with visual media like presentations or infographics, but it can also crop up in written work as well.
Format clutter happens when the presentation of information gets in the way of actually understanding it.
If your report, email, or blog post is crammed full of charts and graphs and tables and other visuals, take a step back and see if they’re really adding anything valuable.
Often less is more, especially when it comes to complex data sets.
Try to streamline your visual content down to 1-3 most important images. One is even better.
22) End Quickly
If you try to cram too much into your conclusion, you risk sounding repetitive or, worse, boring.
Your reader should already have a good sense of your main argument by the time they get to the end of your email, story, or paper, so a brief summary is all that’s needed.
Think of your conclusion as the cherry on top of your work: it should be a sweet, satisfying end to a well-crafted piece of writing.
10 Common Clutter Phrases To Remove from Your Writing
Take out these 10 common clutter phrases:
- “In terms of” – This phrase is often used as a way to start a sentence, but it doesn’t actually add any meaning. If you can remove the phrase and the sentence still makes sense, then do so.
- “Up to” – This one is similar to “in terms of,” and can often be cut without changing the meaning of the sentence.
- “Basically” – This word is often used as filler, and can usually be removed without impacting the quality of the writing.
- “Nowadays” – This phrase is overused and adds nothing of value to a sentence. Whenever possible, try to use a more specific timeframe instead.
- “Due to the fact that” – This phrase is wordy and unnecessary. A simple “because” will suffice in most cases.
- “In order to” – Similar to “due to the fact that,” this phrase can be shortened without altering the sentence. Use “to” instead.
- “The reason why” – This phrase is redundant and can usually be shortened to simply “why.”
- “What I mean is” – If you have to explain what you mean, then your writing wasn’t clear enough in the first place. Try to be more concise in your initial statement.
- “I’m just saying” – These words are often used to downplay an opinion, but they aren’t necessary and can actually make you sound less confident in your beliefs. Omit them whenever possible.
- “I feel like” – These words should only be used when expressing an opinion; if you’re stating a fact, they aren’t needed and can actually weaken your argument.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to remove every instance of these phrases.
But do keep them to a minimum.
This Is Why We Need To Avoid Clutter In Our Writing
If you’re asking why you should avoid cluttering up your writing, here are 10 good reasons:
- Clutter makes it hard for readers to find the needle of your story in the haystack of your words.
- Clutter confuses readers and makes them wonder if they accidentally started reading an IKEA manual instead.
- To keep readers from dozing off mid-sentence.
- Clutter makes readers work too hard and no one wants to read something that feels like work.
- To increase the chances that your work will be read by someone other than your mother.
- Clutter is ugly and makes your writing look messy, as if you couldn’t even be bothered to clean up your act before hitting “publish.”
- Clutter is self-indulgent and says, “Hey, look at me and all my words!” when really, we should be saying, “Hey, look at this story!”
- The less clutter in your writing, the more room there is for your actual ideas and thoughts to shine through.
- Trying to make sense of a cluttered sentence is like doing a puzzle with missing pieces.
- Cluttered writing can be compared to a crowded party. Sure, there may be a lot going on, but it’s very difficult to actually enjoy yourself or have an insightful conversation when there’s so much noise and confusion.
Final Thoughts: How Can You Get Rid of Cluttered Writing?
Clutter is everywhere, but with a little bit of effort, it doesn’t have to take over your writing. Just remember to keep things clear, concise, and focused on what’s important.
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