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One of the tips given to people who do not have plenty domain in one language (this case, English), is to stick to simple forms, rather than too sophisticated ones. One quote credited to Mark Twain is ‘When in doubt, strike it out’. It forms the basis of classic writing advice on adjectives (and adverbs, which some advice-givers hate even more!)  The main reason is that we tend to throw in words that aren’t doing anything useful.  They don’t serve a purpose, so they become excess words.

Adjectives are unnecessary when they:

– Say what the noun already conveys

– Repeat what another adjective says (key and important decision)

– Intensify something for effect (a really important decision)

– Reflect a tired cliche

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If anything, these kinds of adjectives undermine your case.  Readers become suspicious of the extra emphasis.  They’d be more persuaded by the nouns doing the job on their own.

Here is a little more advice on exactly what one can do to fix up the too-many-adjectives-adverbs-and-modifiers problem…

  • Strengthen your nouns and verbs so that they don’t need adjectives and adverbs. You could say “He was a brutal man,” or “He was a tyrant”; you could say “She was a kind, charitable woman,” or  “She was a saint”; you could say “It was a torrential rain”, or “It was a downpour”; you could say “He was running quickly,” or “He was sprinting.” In the same way that you can find better adjectives or adverbs, at least some of the time you should be able to come up with stronger (or more precise) nouns or verbs that can make adjectives and adverbs unnecessary to begin with. You will be able to cut scores of adjectives and adverbs just by strengthening their subjects, making for a much tighter manuscript.
  • Occasionally substitute a comparison (analogy, simile or metaphor) for an adjective. You can say “He ran a clean, well-organized office,” or “He ran his office like a ship”; you can say “The man was tall, heavy, overgrown,” or “The man was built like a bear”; you can say “He ate ravenously, without any decorum,” or “He ate like an animal”. You don’t want to replace every adjective or adverb in your manuscript with a comparison, but occasionally it works well, further reducing the number of modifiers and simultaneously filling your manuscript with visuals. It may also reduce the sheer number of words, which makes for a tighter read.

Finally, use necessity as your criterion for deciding whether to leave an adjective in, or to cut it out. That does not mean reducing your writing to something clinical and business like.

There are all sorts of details that need to be remembered.  All sorts of stories that need to be told.

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