padding (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Nordquist, Richard. "padding (composition)." ThoughtCo, Mar. 15, 2016, thoughtco.com/padding-composition-term-1691474. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, March 15). padding (composition). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/padding-composition-term-1691474 Nordquist, Richard. "padding (composition)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/padding-composition-term-1691474 (accessed October 18, 2017).
padding
Michel Montaigne, "On Educating Children." The Complete Essays, 1592; translated by M. A. Screech (Penguin, 1992).

Definition

In composition, padding is the practice of adding needless or repetitive information to sentences and paragraphs--often for the purpose of meeting a minimum word count. Phrasal verb: pad out. Also called filler. Contrast with conciseness.

"Avoid padding," says Walter Pauk in How to Study in College (2013). "You may be tempted to add words or to rephrase a point to make the paper longer. Such padding is usually obvious to the reader, who's looking for logical arguments and good sense, and is unlikely to improve your grade.

If you haven't enough evidence to support a statement, leave it out or get more information."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • "'Redundant--cut' your English teacher wrote
    in the wide margins of your padded essays
    because you really had nothing to say."
    (Richard Cecil, "November's Advice." Twenty First Century Blues. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)
     
  • "[S]ome students will just write extra sentences to get in their A-level word count, meaning that the shorter paper is really the better one, while the longer one is just stuffed with filler."
    (Ira Shor, When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy. University of Chicago Press, 1996)
     
  • An Alternative to Minimum Word Counts
    "I understand the traditional necessity of giving students a minimum word count. Otherwise reports and stories will be handed in at minimal length.

    "My response is, why not allow or even encourage minimal length?

    "Bloated writing is horrible writing. Kids who are straining to get their word count high enough put down sentences like this:
    Although yet it was very and totally unnecessary for the tall skinny old and elderly man to walk down the wide broad street in the very wet rain, he slowly and deliberately managed to do this, making sure that he had a black wide umbrella above him the entire whole time so that not a single drop of water landed on his oily greasy short grey hair.
    "Why not impose a different goal: In report-writing, convince the reader of the point you are trying to make and make it a challenge for the author to do it in five hundred words or less. Four hundred or less. And so on.

    "If a kid can do that in a hundred words, it will be a phenomenal piece of writing. . . .

    "If your goal is to get a student to write a minimum of five hundred words, I'd rather see the kid hand in five stories of one hundred words each, than have both of you endure the unpleasantness of trying to stretch out a single story."
    (Sigmund Brouwer, Rock & Roll Literacy. Orca, 2011)
     
  • Padding With Quotations
    "Quote only what you need or is really striking. If you quote too much, you may convey the impression that you haven't digested the material or that you are merely padding the length of your paper. Whenever possible, keep your quotations short enough to embed in one of your own sentences. Don't quote lazily; where you are tempted to reproduce a long passage of several sentences, see if you can quote instead a few of its key phrases and link them with a concise summary."
    (Gordon Harvey, Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students. Hackett, 1998)
     
  • Padding in Conclusions
    "The most important thing to remember in ending themes is this: When you have said all you intended to say, stop. A short composition usually requires no formal conclusion; a summarizing or rounding-off sentence suffices."
    (George Steward Wykoff and Harry Shaw, The Harper Handbook of College Composition. Harper & Brothers, 1962)
     
  • Two Kinds of Padding
    "Padding is any word, phrase or structure which does no real work or damages impact and tempo. It can seriously weaken prose which is essentially sound, where the writer does not know what he/she is doing; if the writing is not kept taut, it can reach a stage where muscle and sinew disappear.

    "There are two kinds of padding to avoid: 'surplus fat' and 'deliberate fleshiness.' The first is the more innocent, arising from clumsiness or ignorance rather than the more sinister desire to hide one's meaning on purpose. . . .

    "Surplus fat refers to words and structures that are superfluous by definition or to once muscular expressions that have lost sheen and power. . . .

    "Deliberate fleshiness . . . involves the calculated, even cynical use of complex structures and highly sophisticated vocabulary. Sometimes such a style is employed to impress; at others it is used to intimidate; and on occasion it is designed to conceal, which is worst of all. . . .

    "Certain forms of 'adult' writing indulge three major vices: excessive abstraction; indifference to clarity and the reader's comfort; self-indulgent verbosity."
    (Richard Palmer, Write in Style: A Guide to Good English, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2002)
     
  • The Lighter Side of Padding
    "She found Dotty, as before, at her kitchen table surrounded by papers.

    "'My word,' said Ella, 'you look as though you're halfway through that book of yours.'

    "'I don't know about that,' replied Dotty, thrusting her pen through her scanty hair. 'I'm getting rather tired of literary work.' . . .

    "'So what will you do? Scrap it?'

    "'Scrap it?' squealed Dotty indignantly. 'After all my hard work? Of course I shan't scrap it!'

    "'Well, it seems a bit pointless to carry on,' said Ella. 'Can't you pad it out somehow?'

    "'I do not propose to lower my standards for the sake of length,' said Dotty loftily, 'but I have had another idea. I have asked a number of old boys of the grammar school to write down their memories of my father, and I intend to incorporate them.'

    "'A splendid notion,' said Ella."
    (Miss Read [Dora Jessie Saint], Celebrations at Thrush Green. Houghton Mifflin, 1992)