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How to Fluff an Essay

posted by Peter on October 14th, 2008

I know — this is a bad topic to write about, because it will adversely influence the kids. They should be writing well-planned and thoroughly researched essays, not fluff, it’s true. But trust me, the kids aren’t so innocent, and it’s widely known among the essay-reading crowd that fluff is as common as flies on Munster.

The problem is, the kids who fluff are often as bad at writing fluff as they are at making a valid point. The goal of this tutorial (okay, article) is to at least provide some help in that department. Once this point is nailed down, they can move on to valid, “good” writing advice. But it’s easier to be good at writing if you know how to manipulate and make fun of writing, right? Let’s do this.

1. Make one point, very thoroughly. The number one mistake made by fluffers is becoming daunted by the sheer number of words expected of them, and the result is often a rambling, incoherent mess of disjointed statements. A one-thousand-word essay sounds like a prison sentence if you let this fear control you. Words are a dime a dozen. You can use 50 of them in one sentence about one thing, if you want to. Get around the word hurdle by isolating the one point you want to make, then grinding it into the ground with analogies, clever imagery, explanations, and an unrelenting, statesman-like panache. For example, making this one point ate up 121 words of this article. See? There is no try.

2. Repeat yourself. Nothing demonstrates your understanding of a concept like running it over again from a different direction, in another context, with another factor in play, from the opposite point of view, or in reverse-context (as if said point didn’t exist). Remember, the person grading this essay is probably reading it from the assumptive perspective of one who thinks they know more about the subject than you. Retreading your words will come across as a striking revelation in progress, and your reader will be feasting on the aura of your sudden clarity … while remaining completely oblivious to the paperback thesaurus in your hand.

3. Include personal experience. If there’s one subject you know better than anyone else, it’s you. Therefore, as long as you’re in your own arena writing about your own existence, no one can argue. You just have to tie it into your main thesis so your tirade has a point. This method was of particular use to me during the stretch of time I was responsible for a weekly opinion column: Try having opinions on current events while you’re double-majoring in college. My ammunition was past experience, and it entertained readers for months, until the more observant administrators called me on my supposed narcissism. That was overkill, your essay should fare better.

4. Argue against your point. One rather uncommon trick is playing devil’s advocate by attempting to disprove your own point. The key is, if your point makes sense to you, there has to be at least one reason why an argument against it will fail. Show the weakness in your counter-argument, and you’ve spent at least a paragraph or two strengthening your actual argument. Of course, you could leave out this tactic. It is a tricky method, and suddenly pushing against the flow you’ve created may raise some eyebrows among your audience. It may get you into trouble. Unless you pull it off. In that case, it will just sound refreshing and clever.

5. Bring up a side argument. Is your essay on the strengths and weaknesses of the constitutional monarchy of Japan? Make a point about the constitutional monarchy of Great Britain, then draw parallels between your two points. If your overall goal is to use up word space, there are plenty of topics to spend words on, as long as you stay relevant. If your goal was to spend money, why would you stay in only one store?

6. Disguise your arguments and reuse them. How do you get around a one-item-per-customer policy? Put on a different jacket and go into the store again. This tactic won’t necessarily add value to your essay, but it’s definitely a good way to eat up page space, and your reader will delight in the re-affirmation of your understanding. For example, see #2.

7. Don’t get distracted. One of the strongest elements of good fluffery is a strong voice. You want to make sure you’re taking your readers by the face and leading them down your maze of rhetoric and bedazzlement. However, distraction can make your voice falter, as mine almost did when I took a quick research break during the writing of point #5, to make sure both Japan and Great Britain do, in fact, have constitutional monarchies. It took a couple of minutes of re-reading my own article to get back into the “zone.” Be wary of this pitfall.

8. Tie it up before it gets too long. Fluff’s biggest weakness is the attention span it warrants. Eventually, your reader will tire of you running circles around the English language, and you will tire of doing it. Therefore, tying it off just short of “the right length” will do three things: It will stop the charade before your audience catches on, it will leave the reader wanting a little more, and, if both of these are accomplished, it will make you sound like a solid expert, earning your essay at least a B.

These eight tactics, though sneaky and dodgy, may well turn your next excruciating writing assignment into an admirable piece of hooligan artwork, and the toast of the good-old-boys. Happy fluffing.

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