the that test

Quick and Easy Writing Tip: The •That• Test

“Write how you talk” is generally good advice, but can lead to a few bad habits. One of those is using unnecessary words.

One of the most common of these is “that.”

In spoken conversation, using “that” as a conjunction sometimes adds clarity rather than detracting from the message.

When written, the clauses in the sentences work well together on their own and the conjunction just takes up space.

An easy tip to make your writing tighter and less clunky is to eliminate it whenever you can.


The Tip

Before you publish anything, hit CTRL + F and search for the word “that.” Every time it appears, read the sentence aloud.

Then, remove it and repeat. Notice how (if) the sentence changes.

  • In most cases, you’ll find that you can eliminate it without altering the meaning.
  • In most cases, you’ll find you can eliminate it without altering the meaning.

The second version has fewer words, tighter writing, better flow, and no loss of clarity.

Just for funsies, as we’re touching on an economy of words, let’s take the example sentence a step further.

  • In most cases, you’ll find you can eliminate it without altering the meaning.
  • In most cases, you can eliminate it without altering the meaning.

This version eliminates passive voice. It’s more direct and powerful, and the writing is tighter.

It can be whittled down some more, but let’s stop here.

As writing advice goes, “Write how you talk,” is a good start.

From there, work towards Hemingway’s maxim: “Good writing is good conversation, only more so.”

My personal quote (and the aspect of my work I am most consciously attempting to improve) is, “Great writing is good writing without the noise.”

Fewer words don’t universally equate to better writing.

Fewer unnecessary words do.

Cut the noise. Toss the extra.

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About The Author
John Romaniello is an author, consultant, and coach who helps people and brands find their voice through writing. He's published hundreds of articles, over a dozen info products, and one New York Times bestselling book. Might wanna check out his Instagram, he's pretty easy on the eyes.