Cut the Poppycock: Write with Power and Authority

Sometimes your reader escapes.

Even if your lead is superb and you’ve hooked your readers from the start, they might still get away before reaching your last paragraph.

How does that happen?

There are many possible reasons. In this blog, we’ll discuss one of them.

Extraneous Material

When we sit down to write—excited by all we want to say—we scoop spoonfuls of extraneous material into our books, articles, and emails.

But your job is to keep every next sentence relevant and catchy. Stray but a little, and the reader moves on.

Asking Questions

If you want to write with power and authority, you need to scrutinize every word, phrase, or sentence and omit everything that doesn’t do useful work.

Ask yourself questions about your text.

At the sentence level

  • Does my reader need to know this? Is it important for my colleague to know why I am not available? Or for the reader of my history essay to know when that pope was born?
  • Is one example enough to make my point? Many readers have patience—or time!—for only one illustration. You can often merge all examples into one.
  • Does my reader know this already? Most of the “as you know” sentences are superfluous. Resist the urge to explain.


You might find that your addressees need different messages. For books, you need to choose one audience, but for other communication channels, consider writing multiple versions; that way, everyone gets what’s important to them.

At the word level

  • Did I use unnecessary passive structures? Passive structures can cause wordiness and confusion about who’s doing what. To clarify that, you need another “by” phrase (“This blog was first written as a LinkedIn post by Niels Kwakernaak”).
  • Is every word relevant to your thesis statement? For example, do you need all these adjectives and adverbs for your reader to understand what you’re saying? Can you cut asides?
  • Are you using weasel words? You can usually cut words like “just,” “somewhat,” and “kind of” without a change of meaning.
  • Are you using complicated noun strings that have a shorter, more powerful counterpart?
  • Are you using words that repeat something already stated?


Take your looking glass and have everything bulge out at you. And don’t spare a syllable unless it helps make your point. The result is a more confident voice.

In Short: Cut the Poppycock!

And now, as an epilogue, some etymology. Because it’s fun.

I chose “poppycock” to avoid using a more obvious word.

But poppycock does a poor job as a euphemism. It comes from the Dutch “pap” (the juicy food) and “kak” (I’ll let you guess that one). Originally, these words were graphic.

Enjoyed this blog?

Have a look at my other posts. And if you need help finishing your story, let’s chat.

Cut the Poppycock: Write with Power and Authority

Niels Kwakernaak

Nonfiction Editor

Thanks for your interest in my experience and ideas. I write these blogs to help you overcome the hurdles of being a writer.

Would you like some one-on-one input? I’d love to help you develop your stories.

Connect with me via LinkedIn or my contactform.

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