Writing For Facebook? Use Nouns and Verbs





Many decades ago William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White told us to:

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place… it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.
The Elements of Style

And now we have the data to prove that they were right all along.

By analyzing my Facebook data set to study the relationship between parts-of-speech and Facebook sharing, I found that adjectives and adverbs don’t perform as well as regular, plain old nouns and verbs.

So re-read your Strunk & White and remember that when you’re writing for Facebook, use nouns and verbs.

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{ 14 comments }

Nathan King June 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Nice! The only thing that has changed is the type of media – human behavior still remains somewhat consistent.

@NathanRKing

Teresa June 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Seriously, I was re-reading my Strunk & White at the carwash the other day and that particular sentence you cited also stood out for me. So cool to see it revived here.

MeredithGould June 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm

For another encounter with timeless wisdom, check out books published during the late 1940s and early 1950s by Rudolph Flesch, especially The Art of Readable Writing. He also wrote The Art of Plain Talk. I inherited much-worn hardbound copies of both when my father died. He was an award-winning direct mail writer who would probably have had lots to say about social media communications!

Angie Schottmuller June 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm

The advice and logic applies to web writing in general. Great post, Dan!

Chris Catania June 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for the data Dan! Yes, even in our virtual worlds, it looks like words and how we use them still have a huge impact.

I was wondering if you found any data about the connection between what words were used the most and what content was being shared like a video, blog link or photo? It seems that knowing the connection between the two would help to enhance the use of nouns and verbs. For example, does sharing increase even when less nouns or verbs are used, but the Facebook update has a video or other link attached?

Chris Catania June 25, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for the data Dan! Yes, even in our virtual worlds, it looks like words and how we use them still have a huge impact.

I was wondering if you found any data about the connection between what words were used the most and what content was being shared like a video, blog link or photo? It seems that knowing the connection between the two would help to enhance the use of nouns and verbs. For example, does sharing increase even when less nouns or verbs are used, but the Facebook update has a video or other link attached?

Davezilla June 26, 2010 at 11:30 am

I totally agree Dan, and I would add that this also carries over to tagging (yet another research idea). My team does a lot of metadata tagging on video and photo sharing sites for our clients. We've noticed the same thing: No adjectives. Instead use specific nouns. Example, Don't tag “airplane.” Too common. Instead tag the specific type of plane (i.e., “F16 Fighting Falcon”).

The only time I would disagree with this concept is in searches in social media for funny videos. The terms “funny,” “sick,” “nasty,” and “stupid” are used an enormous number of times in video searches.

GWS Media June 28, 2010 at 9:34 am

That's really interesting. Something I'd often surmised 'must be true' but it takes someone to do a methodological survey to bring it home to you. Thanks for taking the time. Have you seen this? It's just told my colleague to write an article (for a florist client) called “Top 10 Frauds Involving Flowers” which may be a tall order but would certainly get shared on FB!
http://ht.ly/22UjE

Regards, Cordelia@GWS Media

Geno Prussakov June 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

Very good observation, Dan.

I wonder if there's any such analysis of PPC campaigns too.

whennessy June 28, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Dan, I could kiss you for this: a) I love Strunk & White, and b) I hate business writing because of it's a morass of modifiers.

SocialKen July 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Sorry, might have missed it somewhere Dan … did you post also about how Twitter compares to Facebook in this regard?

Teresa, you busted out the S&W at the carwash? … That's awesome.

Sean SEO Marketer July 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Great analysis dan! Whether it is parts of speech or other writing skills, speaking personally always sounds good!

socialstacy July 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Speaking personally does always sound good, great article and thanks for sharing!

Efrain Times August 30, 2010 at 10:20 am

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