Limiting Modifiers And Other Decorativewords Excessive Adjectives Adverbs And Nouns

Modifiers specify or describe the meaning of another term. In most cases, modifiers are adjectives (modifying nouns), adverbs (modifying verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs), or nouns (modifying other nouns). Table 5.3 shows examples of each modifier type.

Table 5.3 Examples of Modifiers




a reproducible assay

a large patient population

positive serum samples


the deeply colored stain

a very successful experiment

a statistically significantly higher result


enzyme immunoassay

tissue factor

regression line

Modifiers add richness, sparkle, and precision to otherwise dull descriptions, but overloading scientific statements with unnecessary decorative words distracts the reader. The verbosity frequently encountered in scientific literature is often the result of too many modifiers that do not add information but rather obscure the actual message. Let us consider an example:

^ Excessive use of modifiers: These impressive as well as clinically and statistically significant data are of great and unique importance to this rather poorly researched field of neurobiological science and will substantially add to the presently still modest knowledge of cognitive processing in the elderly.

What did the author try to tell us? Surely, we would have less trouble to understand the message had the author used fewer modifiers:

^ Fewer modifiers: These statistically significant data substantially add to the current understanding of cognitive processing in the elderly.

The example above illustrates that overloading a text with modifiers renders the writing flabby and ungraceful. Thus, a good approach is to use only those adjectives, adverbs, and noun modifiers necessary to qualify the intended statement. As Mark Twain put it: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out."

Q Use modifiers in moderation. Limit the number of decorative words to those that add necessary information to the statement.

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