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The Positive / Negative Conundrum

Posted by LushingtonTechWriter on February 15, 2013 at 6:05 PM

Anyone who has pursued advocacy knows that one should chose words with care:  they must be used in a grammatically correct manner, typically they should be chosen to convey the precise technical concept that one intends to communicate, and, whenever possible, they should avoid imparting negative emotions.

My original intention for this blog post was to provide some basic recommendations on how to construct positive prose.  The benefits of doing so are well documented.  Consider, for example, this recent study by Waldman and Newberg that reveals the cognitive and emotive effects of negative phrasing.  According to their study of brain waves, writing connotatively unflattering words can significantly change readers' thought patterns, even if what you're writing should be in no way threatening to the readers themselves.

But my planned discourse was derailed for the time being by another fascinating recent study (Garcia et al.) that takes a different look at the issue:  words with positive connotations inherently (at least on average) contain less substantiative information than their more negative analogs!  Well durn it all (umm..., sorry to be negative) doesn't that put us in a bind if we (as technical writers) strive to be as efficient as possible in our communication of tangible information?

Let me think about this a while.....



Posts in this blog represent the honest opinions of Gerald Lushington and have not been affected by commercial interests or other inducements.

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