Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

Removing Word Clutter

I think of "clutter words" as "flutter words." They may look pretty as they flutter around the substance of a sentence, but they are distracting. William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, says that "fighting clutter is like fighting weeds--the writer is always slightly behind."

He defines clutter as "the laborious phrase which has pushed out the short word that means the same thing." Most people use word clutter carelessly, without intention, while other people use clutter in the hopes that they will sound more important or because they think it is expected in their profession. But in almost all cases, the use of such phrases should be avoided.

The following list of clutter words includes many redundancies, clichés, and bureaucratic phrases so ingrained in our speech and writing that most writers must concentrate just to notice them. This particular list focuses on clutter I've observed in business and technical writing. Once you've read a few, they'll probably begin leaping out at you!

Clutter Use
A great number of times often, frequently
a greater number of more
a little less than almost
a small number of few
a large number of many
a period of several weeks several weeks
a sufficient number of enough
absolute guarantee guarantee
absolutely essential essential
adding together adding
advance planning planning
advance reservations reservations
any and all any
as a general rule as a rule
at regular intervals of time regularly
at some future date sometime, later
at 12 noon at noon
at 12 midnight at midnight
at the conclusion of after
at a meeting held here at a meeting here
balance against one another balance
basic fundamentals fundamentals
called attention to the fact reminded
came to a stop stopped
cancel out cancel
cannot be possible cannot be
close proximity close
close scrutiny scrutiny
commute back and forth commute
completely decapitated decapitated
consensus of opinion consensus
continue on continue
current status status
current trend trend
despite the fact that although
detailed information details
different kinds kinds
due to the fact that because, since
during the time that then, while, as
end result result
ended his talk concluded
entered a bit of bid
entire monopoly monopoly
equally as well equally
established precedent precedent
estimated at about estimated at
estimated roughly at estimated at
expressed the belief said
few in number few
filled to capacity filled
final outcome outcome
finally ended ended
first and foremost first
first priority priority
for a period of 10 days for 10 days
for a short space of time for a short time
for the purpose of advancing to advance
future plans plans
general conclusion conclusion
general public public
goals and objectives goals
guest speaker speaker
hidden pitfall pitfall
honest truth truth
hot water heater water heater
if that were the case if so
in addition to and, besides, also
in case of  of, concerning
in excess of more
in the absence of without
in the near future soon
in the not too distant future eventually
in the event that if
in view of the fact that considering
introduced a new introduced
introduced for the first time introduced
invited guests guests
is of the opinion that believes
is opposed to opposes
joined together joined
lift up lift
major portion of most of
merged together merged
midway between between
new innovation innovation
off of off
official business business
on account of because
on behalf of for
one and the same the same
on two different occasions twice
once in a great while seldom, rarely
past experience experience
past history history
personal opinion opinion
placed its seal of approval on approved
point in time time
prior to before
probed into probed
refer back to refer to
regular weekly meeting meeting
repeat again repeat
rise up rise
since the time when since
tendered his resignation resigned
this particular instance this instance
there is no doubt that doubtless
true facts facts
total operating costs operating costs
unsolved problem problem
went on to say continued, added
when and if if
whether or not whether
with the exception of except
wrote away for wrote for
you may or may not know you may know

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.