Research Proves Itself To Be A Grammatical Bully

Bully Cartoon ImageMany content writers find themselves padding content with adjectives. This isn’t always to bulk it up (despite the seemingly infinite space a content box provides), but rather to liven up copy which may otherwise seem…unspicy.

With the magical touch of a professional writer, “garden hose” becomes “chartreuse, snaking, garden hose which breezily sprays crystalline water droplets”. And while, as a writer, you may sit back in your chair and smile smugly thinking to yourself “I’m awesome,” your reader may be scratching his eyes out searching for real information about your topic or, horror of horrors, leaving your site.

The Assassination of Social Sharing by the Adjective-filled Web Copy

While adjectives provide extensive power in the literary world (see: every fantastic book ever written), research has proven that adjectives slow down your reader and not in the good, tortoise-and-the-hare way. A slowed down reader is a bored reader, and a bored reader would rather play Angry Birds than continue reading your nonsensical, adjective-filled vanity content.

This is especially the case when it comes to social media and social sharing. Dan Zarella, in his book Zarella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness, found that the complexity of language in content was inversely correlated with the number of shares. This means limiting adjectives and adverbs, and increasing the one thing you have left: verbs—stealthy masters of action.

Don Draper Takes His Verbs Neat

Think of the competition between adjectives and verbs like a stereotypical, sleazy, greasy-haired salesman vs. Don Draper. Sleazy might at first grab your attention with “amazing speed”, and “sexy red exterior” and “plush interior”, but it soon becomes apparent it’s really just a rusted 1978 Ford Pinto with blood stains in the back seat.

There are no solid facts behind superfluous adjective-filled descriptions and, according to the article Harvard Lessons: Verbs beat Adjectives, “Vague positive characteristics will get filtered out as puffery.”

Turn the example on its head, and utilize manly, actionable, Don-Drapery verbs. Verbs don’t flick their hair grease in your face or confuse with descriptive non-sequiturs. Verbs pull out a sweet retro chair, coolly take a seat across from you, gaze at you unblinkingly and say “Awarded number 1 in its class,” “Praised by critics,” “Provides increased fuel efficiency.”

Harvard Lessons continued its article with “These specifics will increase the credibility of the copy, in addition to providing more information than when the adjective-driven shortcut is taken.”

This isn’t to say that your content writing should become a robotic spewing of facts. As we know, style is always dependent on the client and the product. But when it comes to captivating your reader, creating trust, and ultimately selling your product, verb usage trumps adjectives on the playground of online consumerism any day of the week.

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