Word games and why choice is a strategy

We know that word choice affects how readers respond, and there’s a great article that sums up a lot of top advice in one go.

As you know from other articles on the power of words, there are a few killer ideas on writing that can make or break your prose.

Leo Windrich, who helps run Bluffer, a site that also looks at writing and other things, has just published a great post on word power.

Crossword - From LissaRhys on Wikicommons

Are you thinking about how best to use your words? © LissaRhys

Key tips for top writing

Top topics in Leo’s post:

  • Debunking the myth that tone is more important than delivery. You know the one, the “55% body language, 38% tone of voice, 7% actual words” rule. Did you know that the study it is based on comes from single words rather than speeches?
  • That smiling is the most important body language we can control. A study cited showed a smile getting the most positive reception (probably not that surprising).
  • We should not talk for more than 30 seconds. Anything longer an people can’t take much in – interestingly this goes with guidance on not writing long blog posts of over 450 words (ahem, something I am guilty of).
  • Avoid adjectives in speech. This is common advice in writing, famously in Orwell’s guidance, and it makes sense to carry this over into speech.
  • Ask questions, and don’t lead. So ask who, what, where, when, how and why, and don’t say “would you do X”, let alone “would you do X or Y”, but instead make it open, such as “what would you do?” Likewise avoid should, would for similar reasons (though I notice I have put that we ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘do/don’t’ in these bullets).
  • Don’t use ‘is’. Why? It scrambles the brain for, without getting too philosophical, nothing ‘truly’ is. So someone is ‘acting strangely’, not ‘strange’, for naturally not all they do is strange, no one is ‘a failure’ and so on.
  • The most powerful words are You, Because, Free , Instantly, New. All appeal and all have studies to show why, as mentioned on the post.
  • Split negative to positive comments 1:3. So for every negative comment giving three positive ones is more constructive. I know, for ‘straight talkers’ and the like this may sound hideous but it is worth giving a go. For me a good example of how it can come across badly is Come Dine with Me. In the show where strangers are hosted for dinner at another random’s host, the guests I dislike the most tend to dwell on the negatives, while the best are the ones who are largely positive, or at least mix a fair amount of positive in.

Interestingly, some of these are highlighted in How to Win Friends and Influence People, from keeping it positive to the focus on you and asking questions.

So there you have my distilled version, but do check out the original article for more.