Put THAT Thing Away!

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Be careful; it's easy to do. That is, it's easy to write in a way that overuses that word "that." Or in other words, it's easy to overuse the word "that."

Look: I used to be a major offender myself. Of all places, a techincal writing course helped me improve my "that" problem across the board, not to mention turn me into a list consistency freak.

Here's a sample of how "that" can slow down a poem in a bad way:

The man ran miles and miles
for that woman that could've
done so much for him so that
he wasn't sure what he'd do
now that he spent his nights
alone listening to that same
old Louis Armstrong record
playing that "Mack the Knife"
song.

It's funny how once you get started on "that" word "that," it's often hard to stop. In line 2, "that" even took the place of what should be a "who." "That" is a very typical "that" problem, in fact. With a little cleaning, this could read as:

The man ran miles and miles
for the woman who could've
done so much for him he
wasn't sure what he'd do
now that he spent his nights
alone listening to the same
old Louis Armstrong record
playing "Mack the Knife."

This little piece went from 6 uses of "that" to 1 through some simple clean up. While this piece is just an example and not meant to win any awards for great writing, it is definitely tighter for doing a "that" scan.

So be on the lookout for "that," because it could improve your writing just like "that." (Oh jeez, I'm coming up with some horrible "that" jokes, eh?)

Best,

Robert

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