“Just keep swimming!” Here’s a reason why you must always prefer the positive over the negative… [Tuesdays: “Write with the Pen of the Masters”]
Imagine if the following Disney movie characters said their iconic lines like this:
“Don’t stop swimming.” – Dory from “Finding Nemo”
“Some people are worth not being frozen for.” – Olaf from “Frozen”
“Don’t forget who you are.” – Mufasa from “The Lion King”
Do you think these statements would sound better compared to the characters’ original quotes―“Just keep swimming,” “Some people are worth melting for,” and “Remember who you are”?
We don’t think so… and it’s all because of the word “not.”
According to authors William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White in the book, “The Elements of Style,” writers must always put statements in positive form (omitting the word “not”) as much as they can.
This is because Strunk Jr. and White believe sentences in positive form have definite assertions. They are exciting, colorful, certain, and have no hints of hesitation that is usually present in negatively worded statements.
Strunk Jr. and White also emphasized the inherent weakness of the word, “not.” They said using this word makes readers dissatisfied because they feel like they are only being told what is not when they wish to be told what is.
Let’s take a look at the following sentences:
He was not on time very often.
He usually came late.
She did not think that studying Latin was a sensible way to use one’s time.
She thought the study of Latin was a waste of time.
The copywriter did not remember to include a guarantee in his copy.
The copywriter forgot to include a guarantee in his copy.
Between the two versions of the sentences above, which one do you think is better?
We bet you’d say those on the right!
It’s clear that the sentences on the right are more direct, concise, and assertive. On the other hand, the sentences on the left sound like the writer is beating around the bush.
Here are other examples of negative form phrases with their positive counterparts:
did not pay attention to
If you have to write something in your copy or content in a negative form, use stronger words of negation such as never, nowhere, nobody, nothing, or neither.
For example: Writing “she has nowhere to go” is better than “she does not have anywhere to go.”
Here’s a question…
Does this mean you should stop using the word “not” in your copies?
Of course not!
Instead of using the word “not” as an evasion, use it as a means of denial or antithesis. Do this by placing a negative statement and a positive statement in a single sentence for a stronger structure.
One good example of this is a quote by food critic Anton Ego from the Pixar film, “Ratatouille”:
“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
See? The word “not” was used in a negative clause that was immediately followed by a positive clause. This made the entire sentence strong, memorable, and impactful!
Aside from “not,” there are other words that make your statements weaker. These are auxiliaries and conditionals like would, should, could, may, might, and can. Improper use of these words will add doubt and uncertainty to your copies.
Notice the difference between the following sentences:
Applicants can make a good impression by being neat and punctual.
You might want to check out our limited edition hair dryer. It has all the functions you need to achieve salon-perfect hair anytime, anywhere!
Check out our limited edition hair dryer. It has all the functions you need to achieve salon-perfect hair anytime, anywhere!
You may try our best-selling soup. It has unique and fresh ingredients from Japan―perfect for those who love Asian food!
Applicants will make a good impression by being neat and punctual.
Try our best-selling soup. It has unique and fresh ingredients from Japan―perfect for those who love Asian food!
As you see, the sentences on the left only talk about possibilities, making them less impactful and compelling for readers. Meanwhile, those on the right have definite and straightforward call-to-actions, giving readers a good impression that an actual positive result is attainable.
The bottom line?
Replacing auxiliaries and conditionals with stronger words or phrases will add certainty and authority to your sentences.
Apply these copywriting tips as you write your next set of drafts!
By writing your statements in positive form, you’ll avoid putting doubts to your copies and you’ll better compel your readers to act on your call-to-action!
About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Tuesdays: Write with the Pen of the Masters”
Who doesn’t find content writing to be a skill that requires a lot of practice and effort?
In fact, many people may even find copywriting very intimidating.
However, you can be a good writer as long as you have the right tools. You won’t always get things right the first time, but with enough time and practice, you’ll get the hang of it!
When you write a copy for any brand or for your company, your aim is to make an impact and…
…to get people to remember.
Getting people to remember means getting consumers to buy your product or to avail of your service.
And when you get your content to deliver the results you want, THAT is a great copy!
Every Tuesday, we publish content based on tips and insights from the masters of content writing, copywriting, and storytelling.
Become more familiar with ways to write great copy that helps you gain ROI from your efforts, drive profitability, and achieve your business goals.
Learn time-tested tactics that better capture the attention of your target audience, and maximize the benefits of great copywriting.
Hope you found this week’s insights interesting and helpful.
Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s “Write with the Pen of the Masters!”
Head of Marketing
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
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