What are Filler Words?

You always want to communicate ideas in the simplest way possible by avoiding unnecessary words and phrases. Texts that can be simplified or eliminated are called “filler words”.

Filler words are used in speech because the person needs time to think or lost their train of thought. Students often use fillers in their essays to extend the word count.

In anime, sometimes the source manga takes longer to publish than the scheduled episodes. To keep people’s interests, animators sometimes add so-called filler episodes to complete the gaps in a weekly run. However, much to the frustration of fans, these are considered non-canon and often unconnected to the main storyline.

You can think of filler text in any writing the same way. If the words don’t belong with that context or add any value to what you’re trying to convey, edit them out and find a better way to rewrite the text.

Hot dogs are made from filler meat, which is certainly a more grotesque analogy than Japanese cartoons.

Identifying Filler Words in Writing

Keep this rule of thumb in mind: less is more.

That means the fewer words you can use to communicate the same information, your readers have to work less to learn. People, especially online, don’t like to read blocks of texts that rambles and repeats content. If the texts is organized nicely in short paragraphs (3-4 lines) and utilizes bullet points, readers will easily follow the page.

Every paragraph should have a purpose. It could describe the character’s feelings, set the tone of the scene, or communicate the action. After you’ve determined your goal in paragraph, you should think of 5-6 points that would follow it. Those points might develop into their own paragraphs the more you elaborate on them.

Next, sweep back over the text and edit. Find choppy sentences and break them up into separate thoughts. Then, try looking for words that don’t add value to the theme of the paragraph. Either replace them with better words or cut them altogether. Most importantly, keep the style of the language consistent.

If you repeat the same thoughts, you probably have some junk filler words.

I think we tend to use filler vocabulary because we write the way we talk. People from different backgrounds use different kinds of filler according to what they grew up hearing. Breaking this habit isn’t impossible. Take things slow and thoroughly edit.

Filler Words to Avoid

Here are some example of common filler words to avoid misusing:

Filler text to cut in writing

1 – Like

Like should be used for similes. These are comparison sentences. For example: “Johnny is fast like a cheetah.”

You can misuse “like” as filler by adding it without a link to a comparison. The word shouldn’t be a random placeholder for nothing.

Think of the stereotypical ditsy teenage girl. She speaks so fast she has to use “like” every two words because her mouth is moving faster than she can think. Imagine – “Like I was totally at Stacy’s house on like Thursday and she like painted my nails like with these like beautiful colors. Oh I like love that girl! Hey, you want to like cut class and get some Starbucks like now? Oh my God, I like love their pumpkin spice latte!”

2 – Really

Really is a word that refers to something in reality. The Boogeyman is really a part of your wild imagination.

You can also use it as a modifier to a noun, but it sounds very weak and vague. You should stick to exact figures or imagery that paints a clear picture. “Johnny runs really fast” hardly tells us anything. Really as an adjective is hardly ever useful.

3 – That

The word “that” as a pronoun can be helpful to avoid repetition, but if you use it in excess, it can seem vague and confusing. Pronouns require a well developed context to understand what they refer to in the sentence, known as the antecedent. You should try to use the antecedent at least once in a paragraph. You might have several nouns tied together in one main idea. In such case, the reader might become confused which belongs to the “that”.

You could also use that as a adjective in some cases as an identifier, like saying “That taco belongs to me!”

People often misuse that by throwing it in a sentence at random.

You can remove that from the following sentence without losing any meaning to the sentences:

  • “I am happy that you studied diligently for the test.”
  • “I know that you’ll pass the exam because you took good notes.”
  • “If you don’t do well, remember that I still love you.”

Ask yourself: is that filler?

4 – Just

Just is an adjective meaning something morally right, fair, or equal under the law.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Some writers use just like “only” to stress an action. A mom might argue with her son by saying, “I just want you to clean your room!” Using just in this manner is purely stylistic and should be avoided in formal writing.

Again, you could fall into the trap of over using just randomly without purpose, like “I just love cherries. They are just the best thing in the world.” I hope you don’t only love cherries. That kind of filler brings us back to the annoying teenage girl.

5 – Literally

Something literal is not a metaphor. If you walked through a forest in North Dakota and claim to have literally seen Bigfoot, you aren’t exaggerating or trying to be figurative.

You shouldn’t assume your readers need this clarification every time. Let the context speak for itself. By describing the physical traits of the creature you saw, it will become obvious you literally mean the actual mythical Bigfoot.

If you use literally every sentence, then you’re wasting space on the page and turning off readers with more teenage girly filler.

6 – Well

Well should be used as an adjective or an adverb meaning something done in a careful or satisfactory manner. For instance, “Johnny listened well to the lecture on giant space traveling lobsters.”

Well is also a casual interjection, like “Well, would you look at that! It’s the evil horde of kangaroos vampires.” Keep this use of the word in character dialogue. It does not belong in formal writing and appears as filler in strictly informative text.

7 – Basically

Basically is a transition word you would use to summarize information towards the end of an article. It’s a courtesy to recap your ideas and make it all “basic” for the reader.

However, if you have to use basically (or similar conclusion transitions) before almost every paragraph of your writing, you are either insulting the reader’s intelligent or have the wrong audience.

8 – You know…

When we ramble in speaking, we might segway into a new conversation by saying something like, “You know that one time…” You can use that kind of talk in dialogue, but avoid it in formal writing. Instead of assuming the reader has knowledge of a certain topic, give them some history and background as your introduction. You want to cater to everyone who might happen to read the material. You know what I mean?

If you do choose to rhetorically use pose a question, you should always immediately follow up with a concise answer.

9 – I mean…

The phrase “I mean” should only be part of a clarification statement that is not absolutely obvious. Here’s a good example: “Are you sure you want to eat the boysenberry pie now? I mean, it’s still very hot from the oven.”

Using “I mean” over and over is bad filler that sounds like you’re assuming the audience constantly needs help grasping your main idea. At that point, do you even know yourself?

10 – So

So is a conjunction word that links an effect phrase to the main clause, as in the case, “My car broke down, so I bought a new one.” You should weigh whether it’s necessary to state what the reader may find obvious.

So become needless filler when it’s overused as an interjection. Avoid this use of the word in academic or business writing.

Filler words aren’t necessarily bad. Their value depends on your format and style of writing with the target audience. If you’re selling you’re writing strictly to teenagers, by all means, write so they can relate and easily grasps the message.

You might also find filler words work great in establishing the tone of a scene and build characterization in fiction writing. Maybe a character is nervous or has a stutter.

Yet, less is always more. Filler words become annoying when they thrown in randomly to fill space. Outside of middle school essays, you don’t actually need to hit a certain word count to communicate the best way possible.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, one of the most moving and influential speeches in American history, only has a word count of 272.

Content don’t always become more effective the more you have of it.

It seems the current executive branch gets in trouble for using too many words!