Tips For Cleaner Writing-Fur Coat and No Knickers

Is your copy stuffed with adjectives?

Are they holding your message back?

When we’re kids we’re told to fill our prose with describing words. We produce great strings of them; from the  sparkling, shimmering, be-jewelled princess castle to the cold, damp, creepy dungeon.

They’re great for stories but some messages work better without them.

Think of a restaurant menu or more specially, the last time a menu really disappointed.

Barely simmered quenelles of fresh-water crab served on a bed of wilted Cornish greens drizzled with a pomegranate jus could be disgusting in the wrong hands. To build up expectation with such over-description is a hostage to fortune.

The Marks and Spencer ads, “This is not just food this is M and S food” have also taken descriptive prose beyond parody. We all love the idea of locally sourced ingredients prepared well but the food porn bit is getting out of hand.

I think the reason we suffer from these outbreaks of adjectives, is because they’re aspirational. They are a fur coat thrown on over  jeans, to dress up and entice.

But if you strip off the adjectives and find there is nothing underneath, then as a writer or a chef you have problems.

Tip: Try taking away the adjectives in a presentation or blog to see if the piece still works. You may find a clearer, stronger message without the fluff. Radio news copy rarely uses adjectives because the message has to be communicated quickly and clearly.

You can’t afford to be all fur coat and no knickers.

Have you spotted any purple prose lately?

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2 responses to “Tips For Cleaner Writing-Fur Coat and No Knickers

  1. Thanks for the post Lucy.

    Would you apply the same reasoning to adverbs? I was taught that they were truly to be avoided in business writing.

  2. Any modifiers can be eliminated for crisper writing eg slowly, sweetly, finely. But it would be possible to go overboard. We don’t want to lose all pleasure in the rhythm of words. Even business writing should be satisfying to read.

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