Modifiers give ‘the illusion of meaning without its substance’
Modifiers are “the great deceivers,” according to The Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing. “They give the illusion of specific meaning without its substance.”
How do you know whether a modifier delivers substance or illusion? Try this test. Picture:
An orange kitten
An 8-week-old orange tabby
The picture in your mind changes with each new piece of information. That means modifiers like 8-week-old and orange add concrete detail.
If not, it adds bulk without substance.
Now, picture that 8-week-old orange Persian again. This time, let’s add one more word:
Cute 8-week-old orange tabby
Does the picture change? No. That’s because cute doesn’t add meaning to the phrase “8-week-old orange tabby.”
Cute is a great deceiver.
Choose strong nouns and verbs.
Lose the modifiers that add bulk without content. Write in specific nouns and verbs instead.
What words will resonate with your readers?
Jargon. Buzzwords. Acronyms. They’re things that make your reader go “huh?” And we need to get them out of our message.
Learn how to translate the language of your organization into the language of your readers at Rev Up Readability — our tight-writing workshop starting June 19.
There, you’ll learn how to define terms the reader-friendly way (Hint: It’s not the way you learned in Journalism 101.) How to steal techniques from Warren Buffett to make complex technical information easier to understand — and more fun to read. Plus: you’ll boost social media reach and influence, media coverage and your organization’s authority.
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