story headline examplesAdjectives and adverbs modify a word by emphasizing information. Just as color adds depth to a photograph, modifiers add meaning and color to stories. But too much saturation leaves readers feeling overwhelmed.

Adjectives answer one of 3 questions about a noun: which, what kind, or how many. Add flavor to a story by showing a noun’s origin, type, shape, or color.

Adverbs modify verbs by answering one of 5 questions: how, how often, how much, when, or where. They explain action. Some writers tap the same adverbs repeatedly. If possible, avoid the 3 most common adverbs: not, very, too.

Use, But Avoid Abuse

As much fun as adjectives and adverbs may be, avoid using them too much. Instead of liberally sprinkling them throughout a sentence, use them sparingly to make an impact.


Kyle Bender counts weeds, measures rain, and drives 38 miles to shop for groceries. Sound like a dull life? Don’t be fooled. This quiet young man working the fields in Sherman County is the latest in a long line of farmers helping to further science and feed the world.

Excerpt from Farmers + Scientists = Best Possible Wheat
By Drew Myron, Wasco Electric Cooperative, OR

There is no need to add adjectives about the weeds or rain. Drew saves her adjectives for the hero of the story, not the surroundings.

Strengthen Verbs

Instead of relying on adverbs, strengthen verbs first. Try this list of action verbs from the Writers Helping Writers website.


Equestrian trick riders will thunder into Lincoln County’s rodeo arena …

Excerpt from Fair Fun for Everyone
By Dianna Troyer, Lincoln County Power District No. 1, NV

Dianna used the strong, descriptive verb “thunder” instead of a verb paired with an adverb, such as “ride loudly.”

Stop Double Dipping

Cut adjectives or adverbs when the noun implies the same thing.


They walked across the frozen snow. versus They walked across the snow.
She screamed loudly. versus She screamed.

Harness colorful language to keep your stories—and readers—focused on what matters most.

This is an excerpt for the Summer 2017 issue of On Line (PDF), our quarterly newsletter. Get more great ideas here.