On “Filler” and Consistency

This round of blogs is a series aimed at students who engage in academic writing. In all, the series will constitute a kind of primer on academic writing for students. Each post will tackle a problem I’ve seen in papers from my classmates, my students, and myself.

Today’s post is the final entry in this series on paper writing, and it is another Tips from a Tutor two-fer! First, I discuss “filler words,” and then I finish with my thoughts on consistency.

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What you have to understand is that all of the problems I’ve discussed in this series have plagued my own papers at one time or another. One problem that is hard for me to shake is that of filler words.

In spoken conversation, many of us employ filler words for a variety of functions. This “um” might give me time to figure out how I want to finish this sentence, while that “uh” with a circular hand gesture might indicate that I just started thinking about my answer, and so on. When you’re hanging out with friends and family, filler words are irrelevant. The setting is informal and is based on a loving familial or friendly relationship. But should you use a lot of “ums,” “uhs,” or “well…” when you meet someone in a professional context, or when you apply for a job, or when you talk to your boss?

A research paper, at every level from high school to professional, is a formal presentation that needs the right presentation. An outfit of a t-shirt and jeans is fine for a cook-out with your family, but it does not work at a black tie function. Similarly, you must edit out filler words before you submit your paper. Look at the expensive graphic below for examples of common filler words in academic writing.[1]

 filler words

Remember this post on assuming words and overused adverbs? What I’m telling you about now overlaps with that idea. Edit these words out. Sometimes you can find a better word, but most of the time you will simply need to find a better way to phrase the sentence without the filler. If you can do this, you are on your way to writing better papers.

(P.S., I do think the word “therefore” can be used as a filler word. Don’t spray this all over your paper. You’re not Paul the apostle!)

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The final topic I tackle in this series on Tips from a Tutor is the idea of consistency.

You will find two benefits from reading something that is consistent. First, the reading experience will be more enjoyable because you will be better poised to understand what the author means. Second, you will find that this is how the best professional papers are written.

What exactly do I mean by “consistency”? Good question, dear Google bot. You might think I mean your paper must be logically consistent. That definition is not the focus of this post, though logical consistency is of obvious benefit to your papers. Without it, you are lost.

What I mean is be consistent in the writing, itself. This can often be most easily addressed by answering certain questions beforehand. In what format are you required to submit your paper? Turabian? Chicago? (Modified Turabian for GGBTS?) Within some formatting styles, there is a flexibility on how to present citations of various kinds. How are you going to cite your sources? In-line citations, footnotes, or endnotes? How are you going to cite the Scriptures? If you abbreviate the titles of the books of the Bible, how will you do so? If you quote from multiple translations of the same text (such as the Bible), how will you indicate to your reader(s) what translate you are using? What terms will you use to discuss your topic? For example, if your paper is on the offices of the church, you must define “elder,” “pastor,” and “bishop” for two reasons: it is for meaning (theology) and for communication to carry that meaning to your reader (paper-writing, sucka!). In the example of the offices of the church, you have to define your terms even if you believe they are three designations of the same office. By providing one central definition for all three terms, you reader(s) will be able to follow your meaning.

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And with that, I bring this series on paper-writing to a close. I hope it was beneficial to you. If you think you missed any entries in the series, feel free to click on the tags at the bottom of this post, or search my blog for either “how to write a paper” or “Tips from a Tutor.”

I am currently in the process of turning this series into a concise pdf that you can download and refer to whenever you are in the throes of writing your papers. Once it is finished, it will be available as a free download right here at adamwchristman.com, and I will make an announcement about it.

See you next week!

[1] BONUS TIP: Don’t EVER use the word “thing(s)” in your papers for ANY REASON. Come up with something better!


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