“When you proof a book,” my friend asked, “what’s the first thing you look for?”
A long pause. “I don’t underst…”
“I search for the filler word ‘that.’ I need to delete most of them.”
“Oh-h-h. How long does it take?”
I sighed. “Several hours.”
Oof! To delete a word over-and-over-and- …?
It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Usually, the text surrounding ‘that’ must also be removed or changed. Here are three examples of unnecessary ‘that’s, and suggestions for smoothing out the sentences. Edits are in italics.
- “He noticed that she wore the blue dress instead of the red one that he preferred.”
“He noticed she wore the blue dress instead of the red, which he preferred.”
- “Once we have the answer to your question, that should give us an idea of our reply.”
“When we have the answer to your question, we can reply.”
- “When would you consider that to be a problem?”
“When would this be a problem?”
The first sentence is the only ‘easy fix.’ The others include rework.
Every ‘that’ costs money
An editor or proofer charges by the word, the page, or at a per hour rate. In almost all cases, the base for the calculation is the number of words. Extra verbiage pads the bill no matter how it’s determined.
A good rule-of-thumb: figure an extra two minutes for each edit, depending on how much work is involved. If we delete ‘that’ before our words reach the professional, the proofer may be able to work faster and charge us less (depending on other issues they find).
Request a free copy of Module 2 of my course
“Write like a Pro: Practical Strategies from Experts”
It contains a more in-depth discussion of seven
filler words to eradicate from our writing.
Here’s an example of how filler words can slow down – and add money to – our projects. I once edited a small 9″ x 6″ book with only 100 pages. There were several fillers to get rid of, but ‘that’ was the killer.
I found 987 ‘that’s in the book … about 10 per page. This one filler added approximately $20 to the client’s bill. You can imagine the total amount of wasted money once all the extras were taken into consideration.
The Takeaway: If we ask someone to edit or proof our work, it pays – literally – to use our ‘that’ eraser before submitting the file. We are charged for every word. What’s the point of paying for those the professional will dump?
Final Note: It’s easy to get caught in the ‘that’ trap. After reading this blog, you’ll probably see and hear it everywhere! (Sorry :->)
Let’s all work to eradicate this irritating filler from our vocabularies and written materials.