Writing Tip: Treat the Word “That” Like a Cuss Word

Donald Miller

If you’re a decent writer, one tip that will take your writing over the top is to lose the word “that.” I learned this from William Zennser in his book “On Writing Well.”

Instead of saying “I believe that we should…” try “I believe we should…” The word “that” makes the sentence weak. It loses some of it’s punch and makes the writer sound apologetic.

Go through your latest blog or chapter in a book and take out the word “that” as many times as you can. Treat it like a cuss word from now on, that is it’s okay to use sometimes, but sparingly and only when it actually can’t be removed.

Ridding your writing of the word “that” is much harder than you think. It seems to sneak into every piece I write. Often it’s not until the third or fourth editorial pass I get rid of all the excess “that’s.” Sadly, even in this blog entry I had to delete a few. They’re like cockroaches!

I hope that this tip helps your writing. Or better said, I hope this helps your writing.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is a student of story. He helps people live a better story at Storyline through this blog and the Storyline Conference. He helps leaders grow their businesses at StoryBrand, where they get an entire marketing education in 2 days at his Workshop. Donald lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Betsy, and their chocolate lab, Lucy. For regular updates, follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller) and Instagram. To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

  • sean

    Just went through my History term paper and took out all the “thats”. Those things were in there like fleas on a stray dog. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://www.tbtdevos.wordpress.com Prudence

    Great writing tip! I am quite sure that my writing is filled with “that”, I’ll be paying closer attention to it from now on!

    • http://facebook.com/jordan.magill Jordan

      I found one!

  • Pingback: Rite of Passage « Melodic Remedies()

  • Justin

    I don’t agree. First of all, you example of “I believe that we should” is weak because of the word “believe.” (not THAT THAT word doesn’t have meaning). It should be “We should….whatever.” Obviously my “that” got cut, but it is weak works like believe, maybe, very, usually, etc THAT bring it down. just my opinion

  • Pingback: How I’m Learning To Write | Brian Kiley()

  • Pingback: Falling Behind « The Years of My Pilgrimage()

  • Pingback: Stop Using the Word “Utilize” | danhawk()