Adjective Adjustment: 3 Rules of Thumb

Eye-catching adjectives (and adverbs) can enliven an otherwise ho-hum hunk of copy. But you have to be careful how you use them. If you overuse them, you risk irritating or boring your reader. They are, after all, extra words and each word takes time to read, so you have to make each word worth their while.

To help you avoid adjective awkwardness, here are three Rules of Thumb for effectively using adjectives in mission-driven messaging.

  1. Keep Calls to Action (CTAs) adjective-free: There’s a reason ‘Donate Now’, ‘Sign-up Today’, and other short CTAs work. They get right to the point. Go with it.
  2. No trash: If you can get the point across without the adjective, do it. Otherwise, you risk gunking up your copy. This is especially true for shorter pieces (FB posts, Tweets, etc.) and CTAs (see #1 above).  Example: “We helped protect 1,000 acres of precious wetlands.” Knowing they’re precious doesn’t make much of a difference. It mainly makes you wonder what un-precious wetlands are. Make sure it adds value to the point. Otherwise, delete.
  3. Don’t be boring: When an adjective can help you grab someone’s attention–e.g. subject lines–pick something that will stand out. Avoid overused adjectives like thriving, successful and amazing. We expect to see these words so we don’t really see them. It’s wasted space. Pick adjectives that evoke emotion or speak to the reader’s senses. There are approximately 100,000 adjectives in the English language. Find one that adds some zing to your thing!

This is a mash-up from a variety of sources. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog and Jason Cohen’s post 10 Secrets to More Magnetic Copy on Copyblogger.

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Comments

  1. Elaine Fogel says:

    Erica, your advice is sound. The only other point I’d make is to use adverbs where grammatically appropriate. A lot of people use adjectives in place of adverbs. Frankly, it diminishes the writer’s credibility. It’s also one of my pet peeves.
    :(

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