Copywriting Tip: Beware The Adjective Menace

Cathy Goodwin
2 min readJun 22, 2021

Copywriters need to show — not tell. Adjectives tell.

Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

I used to think adjectives were fairly harmless…friendly little words you’d sprinkle through your copy like chives in a salad.

But now I agree with Henneke Duistermaat, who calls them “a copywriter’s nightmare.”

Adjectives are like little opinions. If you think about it, it’s hard to find an adjective that’s truly objective.

“Large” and “small” are definitely relative. My first dog weighed 35 pounds, which seemed huge after a lifetime of owning cats. Later I realized she’d be at most a “medium.”

When marketers use adjectives to describe themselves or their offers, they come across as the marketer most of us want to run away from. Describing yourself as “state of the art” sounds boastful at best.

What can you do instead?

Writing in Fast Company, Ryan Clancy offers the tip I wish I’d created first: Replace your adjective with a story.

“She was a good leader.” OK. Why not share a story about the time she took on a failing project and turned it around?

With the right stories, Clancy says, “your audience just may conclude on their own that you are innovative, or strategic, or whatever else you want to be…”

In fact, stories can even communicate your values and beliefs much better than a manifesto.

If a story seems too long, try replacing an adjective with a sentence — a mini-story.

“That ‘you have to have it’ style of copywriting”

“A body that’s warning you it’s time to hit the gym”

And if that’s too much, Henneke Durstemaat says, use a strong noun that carries its own adjective.

A “crisis” is a “severe problem.”

If “he really hustled,” you don’t have to describe how hard he worked.

Of course, the word “really” brings its own copywriting challenges, but it’s an adverb. That’s another article.

Want some more quick tips? Download — FREE — 7 Copy Tips To Jumpstart Your Sales. Click here for access.

I’m Dr. Cathy Goodwin, a copywriter, storyteller, and strategist. My clients are small business owners, entrepreneurs, independent professionals, and solopreneurs. I help them get new clients through digital marketing, with a unique mix of copywriting and storytelling that lets them strut their stuff without being sales-y or obnoxious.

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Cathy Goodwin

Create a compelling marketing message that attracts your ideal clients through your unique selling story.