On Adverbs, Adjectives, & Clichés

5 Best Practices for Writing Clear & Persuasive Messaging

By Kat Fischer, Strategist


Now I have read your composition, & I think it is a very creditable performance. I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, & brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way, & the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff & flowers & verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean that, utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together, they give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective-habit, or a wordy, diffuse, or flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

— “A Letter from Mark Twain


Cut the Fluff: Adverbs, Adjectives & Clichés

In writing, clutter is the enemy. Failing to eliminate unnecessary words from your writing — whether adverbs, adjectives or clichés — undermines the message you intend to convey by diluting the meaning with “fluff & flowers & verbosity,” which Mark Twain deemed a vice.

After all, just as the laws governing supply and demand economics demonstrate that an overproduction of a commodity leads to a decrease in the value of that same good, words, too, follow this pattern.

While esteemed authors like Mark Twain suggest the removal of descriptors from prose altogether, content writers (typically) cannot assume such an approach when crafting messaging for their clients. How else are marketing teams expected to deliver on their promise to increase visibility of their client’s brand, if denied the chance to describe what it is they are selling?

At Zer0 to 5ive, we focus on keeping our clients’ messaging clean, direct, and effective in reaching and persuading their target audiences.


5 Proven Practices for removing redundancy & crafting compelling messaging

1. Block off time in your schedule (ideally, at least once a week or on a bimonthly basis) to purge your marketing-related materials of weak and shoddy “filler” language.

2. Treat this window in your schedule with the sanctity it deserves — after all, without editors in our corner to strike out those nagging clichés, extraneous words (that serve little to no purpose, much like this parenthetical phrase), and overused or tired expressions with a red felt tip pen, much of what we communicate to audiences would mean nothing at all.

Hackneyed phrasing does not work. Instead of relying on words, offer evidence. Offer audiences the compelling and quantitative stories — the case studies, awards, business growth, or achievements — that render the appearance of trite adjectives or adverbs unnecessary.

3. When targeting and striking out the fluff from your work, think: adjectives, adverbs, and clichés that say nothing, mean nothing, or obscure your writing.

Any clutter that prolongs the efforts of your reader while traversing from Point A to B to C in your writing will confuse the message you intend to convey (and agonize your audience, too).

4. If time allows, make the act of eliminating lazy adjectives and meaningless phrases from your writing a staple practice during your copyediting or proofreading routine. Your clients and your readers will thank you.

The act of removing adjectives and adverbs will discipline you to prove your claims with evidence, rather than masking communications with invented language, deceptive clichés or vacuous phrases.

5. Last, but not least: Learn the rules to break the rules.

After all, the most important rule for crafting any writing is to know when to break the rules. And perhaps that talent alone is what separates the good content writers, or the good marketers, from the best.