When it comes to writing -- whether it's a novel, a press release, website copy or your LinkedIn profile -- adverbs stink. I'm talking about the 'ly'-ending adverbs like exceedingly, highly, quickly, strategically, truly, unusually and so on that corporate speak churns out. As Stephen King once said, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." 

If you want your writing to stick with people, to cause them to act -- whether that's turning the page, hiring you, doing business with you or buying your product or service -- scrub adverbs from your LinkedIn and other business writing.

Don't believe me? Take it from Gene Brady, a recruiter I quoted in a February column about words to erase from your LinkedIn profile: "It's hyperbole. Unnecessary embellishment."

Here are three reasons why adverbs undermine your professional storytelling.

1. Adverbs don't contribute to the story.

Adverbs are filler words. They make for longer sentences, but add little if any value. What does a highly motivated person look like compared with one who is just motivated? What does it mean to act strategically? What does it look like? How did your company benefit?

People think they have to use these words, because everyone does. I've worked for companies where I've tried to fight the good fight against adverbs, but the firms remained "uniquely positioned" and "unwaveringly committed." 

The thing is using the same words -- and, in this case, fluff words -- won't help you stand out in the job pool or on LinkedIn. Stories are what make you memorable, so focus on telling people how you helped your company quadruple sales or save heaps of money or get to market with a cool product that makes people's lives better in very specific ways.

Keep it snappy. Less is more. Leave the adverbs on the proverbial cutting room floor.

2. Adverbs prop up weak verbs.

Often 'ly'-ending adverbs follow weak, passive verbs, such as like the "to be" verbs -- am, is, are, was, were, has, has been, have been.

Which is better?

He had a really fast finish. 

Or:

He sprinted across the finish line.

How about...

We are unwaveringly committed to our customers' financial success. 

Or:

We promise our customers we will work hard to help them reach their goals.

And...

The company was strategically positioned to deliver exceedingly high results.  

Or:

The company used a series of successful promotions to lure shoppers to stores, resulting in stronger than expected sales

Think action verbs and details, details, details.

3. Adverbs take up valuable real estate.

You only have so much time to grab the attention of an important decision maker -- would-be bosses and clients, for example. You also have only so much room.

Resumes and cover letters shouldn't be more than a single page each. LinkedIn limits your summary story -- the space below your name, title and location -- to 2,000 characters, including spaces. That's about 300 words. Do you want to fill up precious space with words that everyone else uses but that don't say anything new, interesting or compelling? 

Bottom line: Adverbs get in the way of your story. Use them sparingly.

Published on: Apr 23, 2018