We all know what the word “that” means, right? It identifies a specific person or thing. It’s an essential word in the English language, but it’s also a word that gets grossly overused.
In my college writing class, we were given 30 minutes to write on a defined topic. At the end of the 30 minutes, we each got up and slid one seat to our left. (Keep in mind this was before laptops, so we were all sitting in a computer lab.) When we sat down at our neighbor’s computer, we were given one task: highlight each instance of the word “that” in their writing. Next, read through the document mentally removing the word every time. Did it still make sense? Was the word necessary? On average, I would say it made complete sense without it 90 or more percent of the time.
What does that mean? It means the word is more often than not just a filler. Consider this sentence:
The CEO is pleased to announce that the new location is open for business.
Now read it again without that. Still makes sense, right? I’m not saying the word is never needed, but I am saying it’s often not needed. Next time you write something–an article, an email, a letter, a social post, anything!–take a final read and search out the word “that.” You may be surprised to see how many times you don’t need it!