New research suggests that if you want your writing to be shared online then overusing adjectives is not wise, advisable, judicious, big or clever. [Mental note: should probably edit this.]
The findings come from social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who aims â€“ in his book Zarrellaâ€™s Hierarchy of Contagiousness â€“ to demystify social media marketing for the masses.
After examining how often online content was shared, he came to one definite conclusion: the less complex the language, the more likely it was to be passed on. And, after studying which types of words were the most mobile, he found the biggest no-nos were adjectives and adverbs.
This is actually a good tip for just about any writing. Itâ€™s easy to imagine that cramming in adjectives will give your writing colour or help create more vivid images in your readerâ€™s mind. But more often than not they do just the opposite, and merely add clutter that slows your reader down.
Fledgling fiction writers are taught to adopt the lotus position and chant the mantra â€˜show, donâ€™t tellâ€™ over and over until their posture is perfect and they never want to overdo the adjectives and adverbs again. But this advice â€“ evidently â€“ isnâ€™t only for creative writing.
Itâ€™s much better to choose verbs (the most-shared word type) and nouns that work hard, rather than using adjectives or adverbs as crutches for your writing to hobble along on. The finished piece will be tighter and more expressive for it. For example, instead of ran quickly, how about sprinted? Or bounded? See how either could replace the phrase, but each gives a very different â€“ and more distinct â€“ mental image?
Sometimes adjectives are simply redundant. Forward planning, for example. Is anyone out there still planning what to do yesterday? Have a look at these (genuine) examples and spot the pointless words:
Teen dies after fatal stabbing
Gunned down by armed rebels
A visual treat for the eyes
Ill-chosen adjectives can also lead to unintentional silliness (which can be delightful â€“ for everyone but the writer):
Stiff opposition expected to casket-less funeral plan
Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25
This isnâ€™t to say that all adjectives should be banned on pain of death. Mark Twain put it nicely, if youâ€™ll forgive the adverb: â€˜When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them â€“ then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.â€™
Perhaps itâ€™s worth thinking of them like magnets: repellent together, useful kept apart, and not recommended anywhere near computers.