Using photos or graphics in your communications is an important strategy.

But there are times and places where you have to rely on words alone to create a scene and engage your reader.

Microcontent, as defined by Jakob Nielsen, is short content that needs to be immediately clear and inviting to a reader, and which still make sense when removed from its original context.

Many writers use adjectives and adverbs as their go-to way to create a picture in a reader’s mind. However, many adjectives do nothing more than pad out copy or create redundancies.

And what about email subject lines, headings, and social media posts?

When you only have a few words to make an impact, using descriptive nouns and verbs as opposed to adjectives and adverbs will help bring the reader into the story more quickly.

For example:

Instead of “run fast” use “sprinted” or “dashed”

Instead of “small child” use “toddler”

Instead of “beautiful flower” use “rose”

You need words that already have meaning embedded in them as opposed to words that need more words to convey the proper imagery.

In fact, in his book, Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design, and Engineering of Contagious Ideas, Dan Zarrella crunches the numbers and found that social media posts with adjectives and adverbs were less likely to be shared than those that had more descriptive nouns and verbs.

Writing concisely has always been an important skill for nonprofit communicators, but email and social media have made it a necessity. To get your message across, you have to say it well and say it fast. Simpler is just better.

What do you think works better for a subject line or social media post?

Help us provide assistance to the people who are living on the streets so they can figure out where they can sleep for the night.


Help the homeless find a bed tonight.

The second one gets straight to the point. No wasted words. No distractions.

Don’t waste the little space you have on more words than you need.

You shouldn’t fight the character counts; use them to inspire better writing!


Take some type of microcontent you’ve written – an email subject line, social media post, headline, etc – and take out all of the adjectives. Did it make that big of a difference? Are there any noun/adjective combos you could combine into one stronger noun?

For more resources on writing better microcontent, see:

6 Easy Ways to Punch Up Microcontent

Cut the Glut! Wordy Phrases to Eliminate from Your Writing (And Alternatives)

Cut the Glut! Part II – Redundancies to Eliminate from Your Writing

249 Strong Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

Verbs Aren’t Hashbrowns. Don’t Smother Them

People Are Not Really Reading Your Emails – How You Can Help

Write with Strong, Specific Nouns.


Published On: January 9, 2019|Categories: Microcontent, Writing Skills and Content|