Tuesday, 7 February 2012

5. Always remove unnecessary examples of “that” – you can test if it’s needed by removing it and seeing if a sentence scans

Possibly a controversial one if you read or write the broadsheets which use the word "that" in every other sentence.

Not entirely sure why since it hardly improves the copy neither does it make it more intelligent - no one is impressed by the use of "that".

It is not up there with say osculation in relation to, say, the use of the lips. Not does it have the same pleasingly pompous satisfaction of farrago. Not the simple joy of agog (clearly a word that should get out more).

So unless you've one of the handful of internships on a broadsheet it is probably best to leave out. Without it the copy is faster and cleaner.

Here are some examples where it is unnecessary:

The Home Office argued that he should be detained while officials sought further assurances from Jordan.

While Heathrow said it was confident that it will be able to cope with the next batch of snow...

The family of the 85-year-old founder of the Democratic Unionist party, now officially known as Lord Bannside, confirmed that he was being treated in Ulster hospital on the outskirts of east Belfast.

In each of the cases taken a random and there are thousands of them it is totally unnecessary for the modern reader - and perhaps even less so since many of the "serious" papers have become compacts. In other words space now counts.

But it's not just the broadsheets. Try this from one particularly bad local.

While councillors agreed that the display team is an asset to the town's tourist trade, they said the guild would be treated like any other local organisation that is desperate for cash.

It's a "that" double whammy. And means THREE unnecessary words - without the second "that" you don't need the "is"....and that is from a low rent tabloid.

On one occasion I was able to remove 25 unnecessary "thats" from one feature - a whole paragraph and no facts were lost or meanings changed. It was that simple.


  1. This a good tip.

    Speaking from a tabloid point of view, extra words need to be stripped out whereever we can - and 'that' is certainly one of them in most cases.

    I remember my over-use of the word 'that' was flagged up while I was doing work experience at the South Wales Echo.

    The advice has stuck with me and has made me much more concious about my copy since.

  2. Good tip - I always think 'that' is fairly conversational and doesn't work in print anyway :)