Jordan Ogren

May 27, 2021

Why you need to delete "that" in your writing.

I hope that you’ve had a great week so far.

Today I want to share a simple editing tip that has improved my writing.

The tip is: Delete “that” 80% of the time.

Re-read my first sentence and tell me if the “that” is needed. I don’t think so.

“I hope you’ve had a great week so far” — flows much better.

But the “that” in the second sentence I would keep. Without it, the sentence lacks clarity.

So how do you know when to delete “that” and when to keep it?

Stephen Wilbers, in Mastering the Craft of Writing, gives this answer:

“If deleting that compresses a sentence in a way that improves its flow and rhythm, take it out. 

If deleting that creates ambiguity or momentarily misleads a reader, leave it in.”

Simple enough, right?

He goes on to distill the rule to an even more simple form:

“Delete that for brevity; retain that for clarity.”

Why is it important to edit out certain words, such as “that?”

Reading takes energy. And you want to make your reading experience effortless.

“Reducing your language [cutting out words] to its essential elements allows you to deliver your message economically, and that economy accentuates the working parts of your sentences.” — Stephen Wilbers.

The less you write, the more they retain (typically).

Get to your point. 

Even if it means killing a few “that”(s) in the process.

🧠 // JO