Eradicate adverbs. Strengthen your writing.

1Sometimes you stumble across something and you think, “That awesomeness needs more eyeballs on it!” That’s what we thought when we saw Andrew’s AdverbLess infographic. As you know from reading this blog, I’m a fan of adverbs myself. However, I completely concur with Andrew that you have to know how to use them. And that they often make your writing less compelling. Andrew’s tips will help make your writing wowerful!


No matter why you write, whether for business or a personal hobby, it’s important to produce content that is both interesting, and high-quality. To grab your readers’ attention, your text should be relevant to their interests and depict some useful tips and hints. Plus, it should be without mistakes.

Obviously, who wants to read a mediocre article? No one.

Well, writers can make different mistakes (spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.). Thus, a good writer tries to edit and proofread texts before publishing, and sometimes it’s hard to eliminate your mistakes, so using tools and apps is important.

To strengthen your prose, you need to be sure that every sentence is informative and makes sense, so being careful about using adverbs is a must.


What’s Wrong with Adverbs

An adverb is an important part of speech as it modifies verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and quantities. Adverbs may describe how, when, or where something happened and help readers understand the context completely. Although nouns and verbs give color to your writing, adverbs can make your prose better, but most writers don’t know how to use them.

Moreover, most people misuse adverbs and, therefore, make their prose weaker: most adverbs can be removed if you know how to find a more precise and descriptive verb/adjective/adverb.

One day, I decided to craft a tool to help people highlight their adverbs. The fewer adverbs you have, the better your writing is, and AdverbLess is ready to help you with it.


 About AdverbLess

AdverbLess is a tool that is aimed at highlighting adverbs, so you can control adverb density and quantity. I’ve crafted a user-friendly website, so there is no need to write a guide on how to use it – just enter your script and press the button.

Plus, I’ve made an infographic about the usage of the adverbs in the English language, so you can learn something new from it.

Next time you need to analyze your adverbs, pay attention to this infographic to understand core pros and cons of using this part of speech in your writing.


How AdverbLess Helps Writers

Although this tool is simple, it can improve writing skills if you use it correctly. It’s not enough to paste the text to polish your skills. However, if you are careful about every highlighted adverb and you know whether it is worth removing or not, you can learn how to use the adverbs correctly in order not to weaken your prose. Little by little, AdverbLess helps writers become more attentive about using this part of speech.


Final Thoughts

An adverb is a part of speech which is misused more often than not, so it’s important to learn all tricks about its usage. Don’t turn your solid ideas into mediocre writing: eradicate adverbs and become a better writer.

Key takeaways:

Learn how to use the adverbs

  • don’t weaken your prose with the adverbs
  • double check the text to find the adverbs to remove
  • use AdverbLess for free
  • revise your text several times

Have you ever thought about the role of the adverbs in your writing?



Andrew Howe is fond of writing, marketing, and languages. He runs AdverbLess as he believes this tool can help to improve writing skills.

Acrimonious Acronyms

Joe.pic[This is a guest blog post from Joe Sky-Tucker. Joe has been a regular at my coaching sessions for many moons and I never cease to be amazed by his candor, insight and humor. So vexed is he by the uptick in acronym usage that he reached out to see if he could vent on Claxon’s blog. Read on and you’ll see what, without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “Vent on, Joe, vent on!” Dude knows a thing or two about compelling writing.]

Okay people, we have spawned scourge on our lives and language.  It is subtly making us all more stupider like we are from Jupiter…and we are not… we are from Mars (‘cause we get more candy bars, duh).  This scourge is making us create “in groups” and “out groups” and separating us from our missions, visions and values.  All of this with the ease of a key stroke on your computer or a swipe of your smart phone.  Stop it.  Seriously stop it.  Stop using so many (enter favorite swear word here) acronyms.

We can blame texting and lament the damage it has done to our language.  We could stand on principle and say, “in my day” and opine for the days of yore when we spoke and wrote with a lyrical simplicity and beauty that would make Shakespeare himself weep crocodile tears.  But all of those reasons are tired and lame.  This problem has been around for a very long time.  With the advent of the telegraph, the short hand and acronyms were just as pervasive.

We are to blame, everyone, all of us. In the nonprofit industrial complex, it is particularly worrisome as it is affecting our communications in ways we may not fully understand.  We name our programs with a borderline compulsive inclusion complex; worried that we may face perjury charges if we omit something. This inclusion complex comes from a place of good intent, in theory.  In practice, we get program names like the Homeless Teen Therapeutic Education and Arts Group program (HTTEAG).  Then everyone is saying, “The HTTEAG program offers homeless youth a safe place to express themselves creatively…” or “The HTTEAG program provides (that provide’s for you Erica) arts education to empower homeless youth to…”

Now everyone has to learn what HTTEAG means.  The organization that created it knows what it means.  Now they must “educate” us to the proper uses of this gaggle of letters, probably done in a slightly condescending manner, like slipped into a presentation, “Our HTTEAG program is a standout program, oh, right the Homeless Teen Therapeutic Education and Arts Group for the uninitiated” (as though our lives were lost until we are baptized in their acronym hell).  Or it is dropped into a grant application or LOI (Letter of Interest, obviously)(Letter of Intent, also but you knew that too) and now the person reading it has to go back and forth reminding themselves what all of the different acronyms mean.

And it doesn’t just end with one or two, they just keep coming and coming and coming. First we create an acronym for our organization, then the program, then for specific parts of the program.  It dulls the impact of our words, because we are not actually using words.  It is not compelling, it is adequate.  No one ever says, “aim for adequate, being nondescript is awesome”.

Instead, why don’t we name the program “Painting Futures”?  Or something else that would speak to the benefit of the program and remain acronym-free? Why not indeed, nonprofit community? For shame.

This constant use of jargon (a topic for another time) and acronyms creates distance in our language.  Instead of connecting people to the mission of our organizations, we are forcing them to learn our language.  Forcing them to collude with us as we create a euphemistic shorthand for the great work we do.  It’s not LITM (Low Income Target Market), it’s hard working families.  It’s not YOLO (You Only Live Once), it’s called being 22.

I know that acronyms are an inescapable construct of our times and language.  But we do not need to make it worse.  We want people to understand what we do and how we are helping the world.  Through careful and creative (yes grants can be creative, sort of) use of our words we can convey why we do this work and why it is important.  Isn’t that what we all want?

In addition to acronyms, here are some other things I’d suggest if you want to avoid sounding  dumb:

  • “I could care less” when you mean “I couldn’t care less”.
  • Saying “Irregardless” (not a word).
  • Writing “alot” (also not a word).
  • Stop saying, “literally”, seriously let’s ban this word.

Thanks for letting me vent!

Eradicating ‘Provide’

[A few weeks ago, Emily Litchfield of Northern Arizona University reached out to share a win her team had had—they had eradicated the verb ‘provide’ from their Mission Statement! I asked if she would share how they did it so we could all learn from their hard work as part of our Mini-Mission Makeover Series. Hats off to Emily and her team for a job well done!]

CSI Logo In 2009, the Institute for Future Workforce Development and the Gerontology Institute merged to become the Civic Service Institute (CSI) at Northern Arizona University. At that point, we adopted this little beauty of a Mission Statement:

The mission of CSI is linking students, AmeriCorps members, Senior Corp volunteers and others to community, educational and non-profit organizations to build, enhance, and strengthen community capacity, workforce and career development.

Yeah… I worked there and I wasn’t even sure what that meant (and I’m quite certain that none of the other employees did either). How in the world was I supposed to sell that to any potential supporters? I certainly wasn’t going to try and memorize it so I could parrot it back in a robotic fashion, preceded by a long sigh, when asked what it is that we actually “do”.

We needed help! We needed a new mantra that declared our drive, passion and experience not some rigmarole statement packed with as many words as possible. It had to be action oriented because CSI is all about movement and service and community. We needed a good verb because we don’t simply “provide” anything (see Erica’s blog post from April 3, 2014).

After a lot of hard work rearranging word order, researching synonyms, and focusing on verbs, we finally had it and we were pretty darn proud!

The Civic Service Institute (CSI) @ NAU mobilizes generations to strengthen communities through service and volunteerism.

Recently, I read Erica’s mini-mission makeover for July 17, 2014 and I had a moment of disappointment- “Mobilize has issues”?? I took a little breath and decided to celebrate our victories- our mission is miles ahead of where it was in the beginning… and we didn’t use ‘provide’.

ELitchfield Emily Litchfield is the Program Coordinator at CSI.  She enjoys playing the Ukulele and is currently studying for the GREs.

Anna Fahey’s Messaging Pet Peeves (and easy ways to avoid them)

Anna Fahey–Senior Communications Strategist at Sightline Institute by day, acronym-banisher by night.

Anny Fahey over at Sightline Institute is a communications ninja. Recently, she did a post on her messaging pet peeves for the Sightline Daily. It was so awesome, I asked her if she’d be willing to share it here. Cuz she’s so nice, she agreed. And as a bonus, she added one more. Enjoy!

I can tell you from personal experience that even seasoned communicators slip into a bad habit or two.

So, I’m setting out to tackle some of my top messaging pet peeves one by one, starting with four small-scale missteps that are easy to avoid. (I recently wrote about three of these for one of my messaging Flashcards at Sightline Institute). I call these little mistakes “pets” because they’re some of my own worst habits—and they’re easy to fix! (Apologies for a pretty terrible pun!)

The fact is that experts in all kind of fields (take my policy wonk colleagues, for example) tend to use far too many acronyms—it saves time and maybe we think it sounds cool too. Wrong! We also overuse the passive voice. And we often forget to swap lackluster articles for more powerful pronouns. Finally, if you’re like me, you cringe every time you read about “an activist” doing something in the news. It’s like activists are some kind of separate species. It’s easy to forget that they’re people! Better to call them concerned citizens, moms, dads, neighbors, community members, Washingtonians, Oregonians…anything but activists—even though they’re active.

I’m not claiming that words are magic. Even when we use all the right ones we can’t solve all the world’s problems—obviously. But words do matter; and even the littlest ones can help your message hit home.

Here’s my cheat sheet:

Acronyms. Stop using them. Even the most familiar ones—like the EPA—risk alienating. Polls show that the full name—Environmental Protection Agency—yields a bump in support.

Weed out the passive. You wield the power to name (and blame) bad guys or give heroes due credit—but only if you use active sentence construction. Think: Who did what to whom? (The climate is warming vs. We are warming our climate.)

Get possessive with pronouns. Instead of “the government” or “the climate,” try “our government” and “our climate.” Switch to pronouns like our, we, us, you, and your to make concepts less abstract and paint people into the picture.

Talk about people! Terms like activist, or even environmentalist, can alienate anybody who doesn’t self-identify as such. Activists aren’t from another planet—they’re parents, neighbors, citizens, Seattleites, etc. Local people! So, especially when you’re talking to (or writing for) the press, always refer to those familiar and broadly shared identities that make them human!

What are your messaging pet peeves? 

Anna Fahey is senior communications strategist at Sightline Institute—a public policy think tank focused on policy solutions for a fair and thriving green economy. Anna oversees opinion research and distills best practices in messaging. You’ll find her writing on how to communicate about tricky issues like climate change, taxes, and government. Anna has an MA in political communication from the University of Washington. Email: anna (at)

Sightline Flashcards are messaging memos designed as short, scannable tools for sharing effective communications strategies. Our strategic communications team digests piles of public opinion research, transcripts from speeches, expert advice, and academic studies—from cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to political science, sociology, and psychology—distilling best practices in messaging. Flashcards often focus on values-based communication: strategies for talking about important policies or issue solutions in terms of our shared values. Want to receive Flashcards by email? Sign up.

On your (editorial) mark, get set, go!

editing, editing marks, punctuation, grammar
Speed up your editing with these marks!

Many of us put on our “Editor hat” now and then, but few of us are professional, full-time editors. This guest post is from the two editing pros who make up Tandem Editing. They share their tips being efficient, effective editors.


Daylight Saving Time. One less hour (or so it seems) to get your words out the door. We’ve all been there—an hour away from deadline but not nearly done. We were delighted when Erica asked us to suggest a few editing tips for making the most of the time you have.


Editorial Triage

When you’re one hour away from Go, it’s time to focus your writing and editing on the absolute most important details:

  • Spell all names correctly—and the same way each time. Organization name. Program name. Executive director, board chair, major donors, foundation funders. No really, look them up. If there’s a single mistake you don’t want to make, this is it.
  • Give good directions. Verify every street, email, and website address in your copy. If you’re announcing an event, check the time and date info. Present? Accurate? Visible?
  • Double-check your facts: Don’t confuse your readers or make them doubt your research. Search all numbers, dollar amounts, years of past events, and make sure they present a consistent story.
  • Search for your personal list of most likely pitfalls. If you work for public health, pubicpublic safety, or public schools, make a note to do a find-and-replace. Don’t rely on autocorrect to save you. (It won’t.)
  • Take a look at “the look”—it’s too late to change your mind about fonts and colors, but does anything look weird? Is the logo at the top the most recent version?

Two Sets of Eyes

Your single best strategy is to find someone, or more than one someone, to be your second set of eyes. Print out several copies of your final text—ask one colleague to read only the names and another to read only the numbers. Print a copy at 75% and another at 200%—ask someone with a fresh set of eyes to scan it and circle anything that looks strange.

After you’ve entered all the changes (one by one, carefully), run one final spellcheck, take a deep breath, and Go.

The Calm After the Storm

Don’t let your editorial triage go to waste! After your deadline is met and your text is sent to print or posted online, make yourself a cheat sheet that includes verified names, addresses, and numbers for your organization and all its programs, plus your personal pitfalls list. This is the beginning of an editorial stylesheet, which can be an excellent resource for your organization. Here’s a link to a nifty template.

Connie Chaplan and Kyra Freestar are Tandem Editing LLC: One point of contact; two sets of eyes. Editing and consulting for the non-profit community.


Photo credit: Ms. Daniel’s website for her 4th grade class at Lead Mine Elementary. Proving you’re never too young to start editing!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?