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Newspapers are loaded with adjectives and adverbs that influence your emotions

What is Hemingway's rule?

Phrases or words, especially adjectives such as amazing, incredible, and terrible, tell a reader of our emotions. In everyday life, communicating our emotions is common and, potentially, a necessary part of human experience. However, some of the language we use to convey these emotions is highly subjective and can sometimes hide clarity:

  • The company has made an amazing contribution to the local economy
  • Travelling is an incredible experience

Ask yourself what do the words tell us? What is an amazing contribution? How is travelling incredible?

Why should you avoid using adjectives and adverbs in academic writing?

Well, for two reasons: 1. many adjectives and adverbs lack clarity, and 2. science seeks to be explicit in its reasoning processes. Let´s consider the above statements:

The company has made an amazing contribution to the local economy

This statement leaves a number of questions unanswered: how has the company contributed? What is amazing about the contribution? Would others see the contribution as amazing?

The use of amazing here perhaps raises more questions than it clarifies, so what is it contributing to or saying in the sentence?

Travelling is an incredible experience

Again, a number of questions are raised: what specific aspects of travelling are incredible? Would others understand what is meant by incredible?

If you have been travelling, you may think you understand what is incredible here, but your incredible may be very different. Could the sentence be clearer?

How can we avoid using adjectives and adverbs?

Ernest Hemmingway was an advocate of being careful with adjectives and adverbs.

The first method is to delete the adjective and see what you have left. This can help reveal whether your sentence is clear enough on its own:

  • The company has made a contribution to the local economy
  • Travelling is an experience

In the above sentences, we can see more detail is required. Therefore, the second step is to try and use more precise language. Let´s see how we could change the above:

  • The company has hired 2,000 local people , contributing wages to the local economy.
  • Travelling can result in contact with different cultures, including ways of thinking and behaving.

The above sentences are clearer about the contribution of the company and the experience of travelling. Look at your use of adjectives and ask yourself does this word or phrase make what I am trying to say more or less clear? How could I be more precise?