Welcoming in the New—a Good Idea, and Saying Goodbye to the Old—Fluff

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“If you are like most students writing a short paper, you will stare at the computer screen for a while until you come up with a title.  Then you will pick your way through your topic, offering an extremely broad introduction…You might also type in a few long quotations that you like.  After writing fluff for a page or two, you will eventually hit on a fairly good idea” (Jerz, Short Research Papers).

I suppose I am like most students then, because that is exactly what I do!  I just ramble on for a couple pages till I hit on something, go “aha!”, and then write about that for the rest of my paper.  I usually don’t go back through and eliminate the fluff, so that I can focus more on the “fairly good idea”.  Partially I don’t do so because I get lazy and have little time, and partially because once the fluff is written, I usually take a liking to it and don’t want to get rid of it because I think it has its own merit.  The problem is, whether it is good writing or not, it no longer pertains to my paper.  However, if nothing else, this reading has made it clear to me that any corners I cut in writing my papers are obvious to my professors.  They know what students do and are thinking when the write, and will be able to tell how much effort was put into a paper.  So if for no other reason than to get an A, it is very important to go back through and cut out all that fluff (*sniff sniff* goodbye my friend), and from there focus on the good idea that you came up with.    

Speaking of good ideas...check out these!


Greta, another option is to get away from crafting perfect paragraphs during your topic-exploration process, and instead work with bulleted lists, or outlines, or bubble diagrams, or blog entries, or some other informal style of writing that emphasizes exploring and expressing ideas rather than accuracy and polish. Save the wordsmithing until you've actually produced enough good pages that really do pertain to the subject that prompted your "aha" moment.

I should also point out that instead of deleting that fluff and throwing it away forever, you could turn it into a blog entry, or just file it in an idea folder that you can turn to the next time you need to write a paper.

I generally do all my discovery drafting in one file, and then when I hit my good idea, I create a new file and bring over only the paragraphs and sentences that pertain to the new idea. That way I have to consciously choose to bring over only the best ideas.

As you take higher-level English classes, you'll see that the instructors spend less and less time on letting you revise, so learning good composition strategies now will help in the long run.

Keep up the good attitude, and you'll continue to see evidence of progress.

Katie Vann said:

Gretta, I know how you feel. On my blog, I talked about a teacher who required to have "fluff" so he could just skip over long block quotes and grade us accoring to page length and the little writing we included. Although I know having all the fluff in a research paper is incorrect, I probably still have really bad habits in doing so because I'm used to having to include it.

Greta Carroll said:

Thanks for the ideas Dr. Jerz, the one about switching to a new file once I have my idea is probably wise. And I think a lot of people’s problem of writing fluff is caused by lack of planning. I think if a writer has a clear idea of what they are going to write about in the first place, and has done enough pre-writing, the fluff will already be cut down a lot. I guess, in a way, this is another lesson to me on the importance of planning before you write.

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