8

I find myself using these words all the time.

Now (<-- there's one!), to be clear the context I'm using them is in conversational style writing, on social commentary, or in forum posts like these. It's not formal academic writing, and it's not story telling. (In a fictional story, these words would be perfectly appropriate if used by a character).

Here's an example where I've used it recently:

Point four, I think it is realistic that people would have this interpretation. So on this point I'll just stress that this blog post is not intended to be malicious or make anyone feel bad. It's more an interesting exploration of social interaction and how best react and navigate it.

My question is - is this actually an effective writing style, in the sense of being easy to read and persuasive, and if not, how do I get around it?

  • Define "effective" in this instance. What effect do you want to achieve? – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jul 7 '15 at 13:31
  • @LaurenIpsum have modified the question – dwjohnston Jul 7 '15 at 21:08
  • 6
    It's easy enough to delete those words and compare your text with and without them. – Ken Mohnkern Jul 7 '15 at 21:24
  • @KenMohnkern - I tried this technique on the bit of writing I did and found it quite effective. You should post that as an answer. – dwjohnston Jul 10 '15 at 11:51
  • I would say that in your example "So" and "on this point" are interchangeable, not complementary. – rus9384 Sep 12 '18 at 19:35

11 Answers 11

9

In general (and in your question and example) it makes the text feel friendlier and more conversational.

In some contexts, a more conversational tone can make your ideas less persuasive. Whether it works depends on who is reading, and why they're reading.

The word "just" in your example has the effect of discounting the thing it modifies. The effect is mild in this case, but I felt it as I read it.

In your last paragraph, "actually" is unnecessary. For some reason I can't articulate, it feels hesitant and uncertain to me.

| improve this answer | |
8

I don't think soften is quite the right word for what these kinds of words do, nor is filler. I think of them as signal words. They indicate to the reader what direction the text is about to take. They are like the curve signs on the highway. The signs don't make the road curve. In this sense they don't add anything. But they alert the driver/reader that a curve is coming, which helps them avoid ending up in the ditch.

The most common example of a signal word that I can think of is "but". But and and actually mean exactly the same thing:

Tom went to school but Jane went home.

Means exactly the same thing as:

Tom went to school and Jane went home.

In terms of the information conveyed, these two sentences are identical. The use of but as the conjunction simply signals that there is going to be some significant difference between the phrases it joins. It does not create the difference and is not necessary for the reader to understand the difference, it simply prepares the reader for the possibility of the difference. Such words are part of the ergonomics rather than the semantics of language.

| improve this answer | |
7

In your example, the word may soften up the sentence and paragraph, but it remains spoken English, and does give the impression you're not entirely sure of what you're saying. Consider the following:

So on this point I'll just stress that (...)

vs.

On this point I'll just stress that (..)

In this particular case you can afford to simply remove the word; the sentence becomes more affirmative.

These words are usually markers of hesitation. They're slightly less noticeable when you speak, but in written form you should try to avoid them, especially if you're trying to make a point.

| improve this answer | |
  • I would say the entire quoted phrase could be struck. The meat is whatever follows in the (...). Compare my first sentence in this comment with, "The entire quoted phrase could be struck". – Todd Wilcox Feb 27 '18 at 18:33
2

While I agree with the technical points that Nathaniel and Dale make, in that it does soften the tone of what is said, I don't think it is something that should immediately be avoided.

To me that is akin to telling a carpenter to avoid using a chisel.

I imagine a carpenter spends a good deal of time learning how to efficiently use a chisel. I'm sure they understand subtle differences in use in ways that we simply wouldn't notice. But we are capable of seeing the result.

As a writer we have a rather different set of tools at our disposal. We have nuance, timing and metaphor, to name a few. A good writer understands the difference between 'So, this is my opinion!' and 'This is my opinion?' Both will be equally persuasive when used for the right point towards the right audience.

As a writer it is your job to get a feel for those words, to understand which is the most appropriate for the piece you're writing. It takes a good deal of time to learn that skill. But personally, that is what I find so fascinating about writing...

| improve this answer | |
1

Words like 'therefore', 'hence', can be used to replace "so". For replacing the adverb "anyways", there are many expressions and phrases that are able to be used in such a context such as: 'at any rate', 'in any case', 'at any manner', 'anyhow'.

As for effectiveness, it is somewhat effective to use such words as 'so', in moderation. Your whole text should not be filled with 'so'.

An effective way to use this is:

Therefore, on this point, I'll just stress that this blog post is not intended to be malicious or make anyone feel bad.

Best of luck on your blog post!

| improve this answer | |
1

My question is - is this actually an effective writing style, in the sense of being easy to read and persuasive, and if not, how do I get around it?

Regarding ease of reading, it's a wash. These types of words can add a friendly tone but they also make the text less concise.

Regarding persuasion, they reduce the effectiveness. That's because at best they are noise and at worst they are read as qualifiers. Qualifiers push text and speech in a "softer" direction where they allow more interpretation and are less assertive. More blatant qualifiers (e.g., "in most cases" or "ideally") can come across as signals of dishonesty.

While it might seem that softening your point is a way to gently invite the reader to consider your view, it's better to actually present a nuanced viewpoint with assertive, affirmative language than it is to weaken the statement of a more basic viewpoint.

Overall, conciseness shows respect for the reader's time. In expository writing, it's almost always more effective. In fiction, there are reasons to add what might otherwise seem to be "noise", with the caveat that you can still risk losing the reader's attention and excitement.

You get around it by simply reviewing what you've written and deleting all such words and phrases. Keep cutting until you can't remove a word without taking away from the core statement you are making.

| improve this answer | |
1

It really comes down to your discretion, and more will be said later in this answer about that. For now, let's take your example given. To get around using filler words such as so, just be more conscientious of it. If you don't want to use them, just cut them out in your editing process.

The sentence makes perfect sense without it [so]. It's to the point (no pun intended)

(without so in the beginning):

On this point, I'll just stress that this blog post is not intended to be malicious or make anyone feel bad.

In social commentary, or forums posts such as these, the editing process is more likely to to be skipped and the writing will be more reflective of our conversational habits. Anyone can see this with a discerning eye.

According to this article, it's OK to use filler words. However, it's also stated that if you want to write powerful sentences avoid filler words. I would deduce that powerful sentences may be more persuasive as well, to answer part of your question.

I'll include another useful article that gives an example 10 filler words that can be cut from writing (if you chose to do so, and if not, that's apparently OK).

To answer your question, it's up to you whether or not you want to include filler words. Having informal sentence structure may have its advantages or seem relatable due to being more reflective of our common speech habits, but if you want to deliver powerful (effective?) sentences, they aren't necessary - even advised to be avoided.

| improve this answer | |
1
+50

The answer to your question is yes, it can be an effective writing style; I myself do something similar when writing letters. It can come across as if you're in the room with the reader, talking to them.

My personal experience is that they should be used sparingly, however. When every second or third sentence is a so, therefore, now, or an anyway, it becomes noticeable and annoying.

I would also argue that it's not just these words that create a conversational tone, it's about writing in an overall style that is clear, concise, talkative and informal. For example, using contractions helps to create this impression, as does writing in the first person, and addressing the reader (or the person you're replying to). These are all the hallmarks of having a conversation.

The word "filler" in your subject is a dead giveaway that you're looking at these words in the wrong light. The old adage of something is perfect because there is nothing left to take away applies here. Words are not meant to be filler. If a word is superfluous in conveying what you mean, why bother using it at all? Rewrite the text without the word in question, and see how it looks:

Point four, I think it is realistic that people would have this interpretation. I'd just like to stress that this blog post is not intended to be malicious or make anyone feel bad; it's more an interesting exploration of social interaction, and how best to react and navigate it.

Always aim for clarity and simplicity. Write, and then edit, edit, edit.

| improve this answer | |
0

Dialog in writing is not the same as dialog in writing between two people. Usually the dialog is shorter. However, it is possible that to convey a specific character's attitude "filler" words like "so" can and should be used. I am sure that there are other reasons.

However, I find myself using them much too often in dialog and go back and delete them. Even for a character that uses filler words, I use them much less than they would be used in real life. I try to have only one character in a dialog use such words.

We are writers, and words are our tools. Each word should have an importance in our writing or it can be removed. Just be sure that the fillers that you use add to the writing rather than distract from it. This is very subjective.

| improve this answer | |
0

You could have arguments on either side about this idea. Some people will argue that using these words, as you say, will give the writing a more conversational style and make the audience feel more comfortable. I believe that this can be an appropriate style of writing for blogs, especially as they are known to be a more casual style of writing than articles written for other publications.

However, in another world of writing, the editor's eye look for any words which do not contribute to the whole of the work. Any 'so's, 'anyway's, or 'Well's (unless you mean that someone is doing well) will be strictly cut. These words have the reader take time to read something which will not contribute to their understanding of the article's meaning.

| improve this answer | |
-2

Filler words can help you reach a higher word count, but if you want to be more concise, delete them. I find that filler words can help in rough drafts, but in final drafts, they sometimes detract from the power of the sentence.

For example:

This was founded. So people came.

is slightly less powerful than

This was founded. People came.

It has to do with the order of the words and such.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    The question didn't ask "should I do this?" (and even if it did, you should support your opinion rather than just stating it). The question asks if this style, in a particular type of writing, is effective. Please edit to address the question. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jan 26 '16 at 21:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.