Fluff – the eternal challenge

In technical communication, short and simple is always better. There is a wealth of data confirming the value of clear, direct writing. The famous Jakob Nielsen study from Sun Microsystems showed the advantage of cutting text; after he removed 40 percent of the original text on the website’s knowledge base, Nielsen discovered that users thought that the new version had more information.

Text by Leah Guren


Fluff – the eternal challenge

Image: © Albert Ziganshin/123rf.com

What exactly is "fluff"?

When editors talk about fluff, they are referring to many different writing problems that are not actual mistakes in syntax or grammar. Rather, these are the bad habits that cause our writing to be bloated and hard to understand.  

There are two major problems with fluff:

  • For users, fluff makes the content harder to read and understand. It makes it harder to find and identify information. It increases the risk of user error.
  • For companies, fluff increases localization costs (a direct expense) and increases customer support costs (an indirect expense).

The many faces of fluff

There are many types of fluff:

  • Formal and complex vocabulary: Long, complex words make a text harder to understand. Why write "proficiencies" when you can write "skills"?
    Solution: pick the simplest words.
  • Long, passive voice sentences: Passive voice makes it harder to decode ...