Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Fluff filters, and why you want to read with them turned on

You can simply read a page,

... or you can READ a page with some intelligence. 

One of the important skills I teach in my search classes is Reading through the fluff.  Or, in a catchier turn of phrase, reading with a Fluff Filter.  

That is, reading to get to the heart of the content while ignoring all of the persuasive text that’s added to get you to believe what they’re writing is true, wonderful, or desirable. 

Example:  While searching for a particular online lesson, I found this description of a company that's looking for a group to partner with them.  They wrote:
…they are on a mission to design a new revolutionary program, seeking out external partners to join them. Today we'll learn about the comprehensive process they took to find, evaluate and select a top tier creatively innovative third party Core Design Partner.

That’s fine, but let’s cut this down to the real core content by removing the fluff.  

Here's that paragraph with strike0uts for things that are merely descriptive or don't contribute anything: 
…they are on a mission to design a new revolutionary program, seeking out external partners to join them. Today we'll learn about the comprehensive process they took to find, evaluate and select a top tier creatively innovative third party Core Design Partner.

That is, as I read this my brain Fluff Filters this prose into the following: 

…they are seeking partners. Today we learn about how they will evaluate that partner.
It’s shorter and simpler to understand.  I don't really need to know about their mission (or that it's revolutionary... of course it is).  I don't really need to hear about their "comprehensive process" to find a "creatively innovative third party Core Design" partner.  

Here's my Fluff Filter:  

a. trim the descriptive text down to what you really need to know, 
b. take out anything that you know to be true already,
c. remove all of the puffy adjectives that pump up the description and make it sound great

Let’s try this with something you might come across--a description of a new online game. 

With a cute and chaotic cartoon art style and hordes of bizarre enemies, things can get seriously crazy. The depth of your choice in how to defend is unsurpassed with dozens of towers, each with their own upgrade trees to climb.

As I read this with my Fluff Filters on, I read: 

Things get crazy. You defend by building towers. 

See where I’m going with this?  Cut to the chase and read only the parts that carry the core information.  

Another example:  If you read the following (made-up!)  menu description with your Fluff Filter on, you’ll emerge with the key concept: 

The Grand Armadillo Soufflé is an angelic symphony of the most tender, center cut, marinated,  free-range armadillo steaks imaginable.  Sautéed with Sonoma Valley garlic and drenched in 17-year-old balsamic vinegar from Anderson Valley grapes grown on century old, organically raised vines. 

That key concept?  It's: 

Armadillo marinated in vinegar. 

As you read your search results (or menus, for that matter), keep your Fluff Filters on full.  See the content inside the content. 

Have any good examples of especially fluffy prose that you’ve seen in your searches?  Leave them in the comments below.

Search on. 


  1. I love this and collect examples of fluff in company annual reports.

    Here's one:

    "The Company’s digital growth strategy is centered around exploiting our competitive advantage at the intersection of materials science and digital imaging science. The Company has leading market positions in large markets including digital printing plates, scanners, digital still and video cameras, and kiosks. In addition, the Company has been introducing differentiated value propositions in new growth markets that are in need of transformation."

    I normally say to students (usually more politely) WTF do growth markets need transformation - that's what the growth is doing. However converting this into a fluff free version is hard. Perhaps "The company's strategy is to service digital markets and prepare new products".

    This may have helped the share price as the original quote was from a company just prior to Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    Or how about this one (where I've substituted X for the actual company name):
    “X believes that the quality and skills of its employees have been key factors in its success to date. X intends to continue its recruiting strategies and operations worldwide to support its product development and growth strategies. X intends to retain, attract and develop personnel to drive organizational performance and foster an environment of innovation, learning and development for the Company’s talented workforce. In order to fully realize the potential of the Company’s personnel, the Company is also focused on realigning its organizational structure to reduce complexity and increase accountability to create a more effective work environment for its personnel.”

    Removing the fluff "X thinks some employees are good enough to keep in our slimmed down company, but many employees will get fired".

    BTW I'd not have been as ruthless on those armadillos. I'd have gone "Garlic and Vinegar marinated Armadillo steaks".

    1. You're right... I was a bit harsh on the Armadillo description: "Garlic and vinegar marinated Armadillo steaks" is better. (Who would want to leave out the garlic??)

    2. I'm just a home cook but I don't think you can skip the "soufflé" part out of the description. I know it's just foam, but it's essential fluff. ;)

  2. visual fluff
    makes reading the textual fluff easier…
    …perhaps a different term/word would be in order…?
    "The term fluffer has also been used by the real estate industry to refer to a person that stages homes,[8] and as a term for a maid who fluffs pillows, or in general cleans and prepares work equipment.[9] These two usages of the term predate the pornographic usage, which came into use in the 1970s."