Which adjectives go first?

These [2] big, [6] red [9] capital letters contrast with the [1] ugly, [6] green slats.

The most common sequence of adjectives is: opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material. If you are a native speaker of English, you probably write this way without thinking – unless it’s an unusually long string of adjectives. If English is an additional language for you, this is a lesson you might want to save for future use.

sequence   relates to   examples
1 opinion   remarkable, healthy, cooperative
2 size   short, tiny, enormous
3 physical quality   heavy, wide, narrow
4 shape   round, square, oval
5 age   young, 100-year-old, adolescent
6 color   blue, aqua, teal 
7 origin   French, South American, Bostonian
8 material   hardwood, synthetic, silk 
9 type   recyclable, creamy, C-shaped 
10 purpose   baking, bicycling, washing

  • The [1] unique, [6] blue, [8] woolen yarn contrasts beautifully with the [9] muslin fabric.
  • The designer chose the [4] long,[7] beige, [10] room-darkening blinds.
  • For the headings on your website, choose a [2] thin, [3] delicate, [9] sans-serif font.

Wonderful world of words: Prices are high these days.

Gas costs an arm and a leg.

Whole sale pharmacy.

Well. these shirts are cheap.

Sale: Buy owner.

Wonderful world of words: Be very careful.

Arm comes down.

Donkey bites!

Many people walking.

Caution: May require supervision.


Wonderful world of words: Know your numbers, too.

Everything is in Aisle 1.

Buy acne or suncare here in Aisle 2.


13-and-a-half Street,
Washington DC

Store open 8 days a week


Wonderful world of words: Directional signs

I write, therefore I use words. Words, obviously, make sentences. They also make signs, which are sometimes straightforward, sometimes off, sometimes simple, sometimes stupid. I am beginning to post my favorites, four at a time, for your reading delight. Let’s start with directional signs.

Seattle crossing

Seattle crossing

Mount Aire Farm Road twice

Mount Aire Farm Road

Salamander crossing

Salamander crossing

Welcome to Washin

Welcome to Washin

Just so you know where you are. 

Write a news release right

The future of education is around the corner.

Up here, flush right, type:
name of sender
phone numbers
e-mail address

Use news releases to share information.
Write a sub-head, too.

PHILADELPHIA, date …. “News releases inform the media about what your organization is doing,” says Susie Perloff, Philadelphia writer and writing trainer. She cautions against formulaic, dull announcements and recommends “writing tight, bright tidbits about worthwhile or important information.”

A news release releases news about and builds awareness of your organization. “Your release should pique writers’ and editors’ interest,” she says. “Do not aim to see your release printed intact. Try instead to generate larger, longer or different stories. Let editors ask more questions.”

“I look at releases as news stories,” says Malayna J. Perloff, a former member of the marketing communications staff at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the public relations staffs of the American Red Cross and Philadelphia Mayor John Street. “If people stop reading after the first paragraph, would they know what I thought was important?”

Disseminate news releases to spread the word about corporate changes, impressive sales growth, new boards members or other essential stuff. 

Since most people ignore most news releases, you need to write intelligent copy. To fascinate editors, Susie Perloff says:

  • Get to the point. Begin when and where the news begins, not with the founding of the company or organization.
  • Avoid negatives, primarily because they are harder to read than positives. Don’t write, The clinic will not be open Thursday evenings or Sunday afternoons. Instead write, The clinic will be open all week except Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
  • Skip propaganda.
  • Shun trite quotes. The new executive director of an association says, “I’m motivated by improving the quality of life for people.” Who isn’t? Draft a better quotation for her.

“When releases follow the industry’s best practices, editors, reporters and producers are more likely to heed them,” Perloff says, offering specifics:

  • Choose Times New Roman and/or Arial, which are the most common fonts.
  • Write tight. Shortest is best. One page or less.
  • Use bulleted lists for brevity and clarity.
  • Use the present tense to discuss current, continuing or future activities. Use the past tense for completed actions. Since the present tense tends to appear more in features-y publications and newspaper sections, use it when that’s your audience.
  • Type it double-spaced, with one-inch margins.

End with “boilerplate” material, including links, about your organization, like this: WriterPhiladelphia.com has a blog that teaches adults to write nonfiction. And that’s the truth.

3 little words make a hendiatris

A hendiatris is a figure of speech in which 3 consecutive words express a central idea.

Examples of a hendiatris (pronounce it hen DIE a triss) include:

  • “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” [President Franklin Roosevelt’s advice for speakers.]
  • “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” [Olympic motto meaning “Faster, higher, stronger]
  • “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” [French motto meaning “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”]
  • “Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar’s boast: “I came. I saw. I conquered.”]
  • “Wine, women, and song.” [Anonymous]

Writing tip: Use a hendriatis to add pizzazz to your writing.

How to incorporate threes into your nonfiction writing.

More about incorporating threes into your nonfiction writing.

Boost your creativity with these 7 tips

Ignore the warnings, even if you can read them. Create!

When you have a good idea, ignore everybody else’s input.

  • At the moment you create it, you don’t know whether your concept has merit – but neither does anyone else. Do you have a strong gut feeling that it’s valuable? Then trust your feelings, whether your idea delights or scares you.
  • Hold onto and polish your good ideas, in life and when writing nonfiction.
  • Put the hours in. Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. Succeed by investing time, effort and stamina. Being good at anything is like figure skating – it just looks easy.
  • Everyone is born with the possibility of creativity. Nurture that openness in yourself and your children.
    Be creative for your own sake, not for anyone else’s.
  • Find your own voice. A Picasso always looks like Picasso painted it. Hemingway always sounds like Hemingway. A Beethoven Symphony always sounds like Beethoven. What’s your voice?
  • If you have the creative urge, it won’t go away. Learn to accept it. Listen to it. Feel it. Accept it. Give into it. Be creative.

Destroy your imagination with these 6 notions.

  • “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”
    Literary Digest, 1899
  • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
    Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
    Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  • “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
    Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  • “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
    Albert Einstein, 1932
  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
    Western Union internal memo, 1876

Need to improve your writing?

Let Susan help

never place a period

You need to train your employees to write if

  • They write such poor reports that you rewrite every sentence before forwarding.
  • They produce documents that reflect poorly on you and the company.
  • It costs money and time to scrutinize every manuscript.
  • You wish your staff would agree on writing styles for your department or organization.
  • They have great ideas for writing projects but cannot implement them.
  • They have brilliant ideas but only a passing relationship with grammar.
  • They write professionally and are eager to move to the next level.

People in any position benefit from writing training

  • Chief executive officers
  • Directors of nonprofit organizations
  • Leadership teams
  • Top- and mid-level managers
  • High-potential individuals
  • Individual contributors
  • Administrative assistants and other support staff
  • People in any field benefit from writing training
  • Architects, engineers and designers
  • Human-resource specialists
  • Lawyers and judges
  • MBAs
  • Physicians, healthcare administrators and patient-care specialists
  • Public relations specialists, staff writers, editors
  • Technical specialists who communicate with non-tech staff
  • Support staff

Call me for customized workshops that help your staff gain skill and confidence as writers.

My workshops are both useful and entertaining, since people need to be engaged in order to learn. Each session includes instructive presentations and discussions at the basic, intermediate and advanced levels.

Proofread for consistency and accuracy

Why proofread? It makes everyone look good. It’s an essential part of quality control.

Even little errors and inconsistencies can shake readers’ confidence in the accuracy of what we write. Replace if for it. Your for you. Your for you’re. Iversen for Iverson. Fix misspelled names and misused words.

What is proofreading?

Most people think of proofreading as skimming a document to catch and mark errors. In this sense, most people occasionally proofread, if only to check the personal letters they write. When you proofread your business and professional papers and electronic messages, however, you must take the process seriously.

  • Professional proofreading involves comparing two versions of the same document to catch errors and to mark them so the creator understands the instruction.
  • Proofreading compares the live copy (the newly produced version) to the dead copy (the author’s original version) – word for word and letter for letter
  • What a proofreader does.
  • A proofreader works with language that is hand-written, typed or onscreen.
  • You are doing comparison As a proofreader, you mark the live copy where it differs from the dead, such as where letters, words, or lines are omitted or repeated.

The cost of not proofreading

  • Years ago, in Ottawa County, Mich., someone failed to notice that the typist skipped the L in public on a proposed amendment for an election ballot. Someone had to pay $40,000 to correct the embarrassing typo and reprint 170,000 ballots.
  • A Bucks County judge slashed a lawyer’s fee because of typos. In court filings, the lawyer frequently mentioned the “United States District Court for the Easter District of Pennsylvania.” That’s “Easter” instead of “Eastern.” The judge wrote: “Considering the religious persuasion of the presiding officer, the ‘Passover’ District would have been more appropriate.” And the lawyer addressed the judge as “Jacon,” not “Jacob,” Hart. The cost of these typos, termed “careless, to the point of disrespectful”? A reduction of a $300 hourly fee to $150. Take that and spell-check it.
  • Here are three wonderful examples of simple misteaks.

Leak soup. (On the menu at a retirement community. A grim dining choice for people who perceive their youth is dribbling away.)

Duel air bags. (Me, I usually spar with the seatbelts. (From captions on GMA.)

A sign in the parking lot of Wills Eye Hospital pointed to the proper place for WILLS EYE DROP OFF. Deliver your ears to Pennsylvania Hospital and drive your legs to the University of Pennsylvania.