Somewhere along the way, probably in elementary school, many students “overheard” a teacher’s suggestion: To write a truly descriptive paper, imbue your writing with adverbs (which mostly modify verbs) and adjectives (which modify nouns). If your zealousness has led to overuse, you might do well to go back to basics and recall one of the fundamental writing lessons contained in William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s revolutionary book, "The Elements of Style."
Heed the Masters of Style
It may help to remember that Strunk and White advocated clean, concise and crisp writing, right out of the “less is more” school of style. While they didn’t quite disparage adverbs and adjectives, they referred to them as “assistants” that should be used sparingly. (Even the authors might agree to say “very” sparingly.) “The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place,” Strunk and White wrote. While the authors admit that adverbs and adjectives are “indispensable parts of speech,” their admonition has stood the test of time since 1959: The best way to avoid adverbial and adjectival overuse is to make a compelling case for each and every adverb and adjective. If you can, then by all means, use it. Otherwise, remember that “naked” verbs and nouns “give good writing its toughness and color,” they say.
- The Elements of Style, 4th edition; William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White; 2000.
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
- The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz; 1991.
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Expository Essays
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images