That Sucks

Dear Blue,

Writing to you with the hope that you can help me. I just received a message from my boss that frustrated me. He said that I use the word “that” too often in my quarterly management report and that I invite it to every sentence as if it’s the “guest of honor.” I argued that it’s there for clarity, but he says that it’s there because it has nowhere else to be. He also said “that” is like the awkward friend who shows up to every party because they heard there might be cake. Ouch.

Can you please confirm for me that he’s wrong?

Sincerely,

That Sucks

Dear TS,

You’re right. That DOES suck. While you are correct in arguing the word “that” can bring clarity to a sentence, it, more often than not, sucks the clarity right out of it. Let me explain…

The most effective way to deliver information is to keep it simple. Adding filler words such as “that” weakens and confuses your message.

“That” “umm” “so”—they’re all phrases we commonly use in speaking, easy verbal pauses to give our brain time to determine what to say next. More often than not, they diminish the point we’re trying to make and lose our listeners’ attention. How often have we thought, “Spit it out!” when somebody waffles around a point they’re trying to make?

Unfortunately, we often write as we speak, and when “that” makes its way into our written communication, what happens? You lose impact on paper, too.

Have you ever read or listened to the speeches of standout orators like Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama? They all share the ability to convey ideas using short, powerful sentences. You won’t find filler words or phrases; these are the enemies of impact. 

So, how do you write a report your boss will want to read?

Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the writing wheel. 

Start small.

Start with that.

Write your email/report/press release. Then, cross out every “that” in your document. 

Let’s use this approach in the letter you wrote me:

Writing to you with the hope that you can help me. I just received a message from my boss that frustrated me. He said that I use the word “that” too often in my quarterly management report and that I invite it to every sentence as if it’s the “guest of honor.” I argued that it’s there for clarity, but he says that it’s there because it has nowhere else to be. He also said “that” is like the awkward friend who shows up to every party because they heard there might be cake. Ouch.

Can you please confirm for me that he’s wrong?

Now, reread it. This simple exercise reduced word count and improved the overall impact of the message. The second sentence needs rewording; changing it to “I just received a frustrating message from my boss” increases the impact even more. 

Congratulations. You now have clear, concise communication positioned perfectly to deliver your message with punch. 

Easy!

(Pro Tip: Try “Ctrl/Cmd + F” after writing and find all the “thats” for a quick search and remove!)

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