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5 Surprising Writing Tips To Make Your Words Fascinating (Backed by Science)


We all do it -

Whether it’s a PowerPoint deck to present our ideas, an ad to drive engagement, or a social media post to share our thoughts, knowing how to write well is a critical skill for success.

But some people’s (and brands) words seem to be magic. They create a magnetic pull that you can’t resist. Luckily, researchers have uncovered a few proven strategies that can help your writing irresistible.

Today's tips: 

  • To make social proof more powerful, use present tense, not past tense
  • To capture attention, think about the size of your words
  • To sell something surprising, make it familiar (and vice-versa)
  • To get more engagement on social, use "certain" language
  • To better persuade, use indirect claims - not direct claims

🧠 1. To make social proof more powerful, use present tense, not past tense

In marketing, brands describe their products and experiences to persuade customers.

Customer reviews can also be featured to make a brand seem more appealing.

And the words used are often a mix of present and past tense, ie. “I love the coffee at this place.” vs. “I had a great latte there.”

But a recent study found that using the present tense can be more persuasive than using past tense.

// The Study

"How Verb Tense Shapes Persuasion", Grant Packard, Jonah Berger, Reihane Boghrati; Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2023 [Source]

// Why It Works

When we use present tense, it suggests we are more certain about our opinions and experiences, which is more persuasive.

// How Marketers Can Apply This

Carefully consider the reviews you feature and words you use in your marketing (and even your internal presentations).

Instead of saying...

“More than 200M people ordered the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2023.”

Try saying...

“More than 200M people order the Pumpkin Spice Latte every fall.”

🧠 2. To capture attention, think about the size of your words

Our brains were built to equate size with danger.

So we naturally pay more attention to things that appear bigger.

When words are all the same size, our brains have to work harder to read them, process them, and then have an emotional reaction.

But studies have found when some words are bigger than others (particularly emotional words), the ad is more likely to grab our attention and stir our emotions.

// The Study

Attention Capture and Transfer in Advertising: Brand, Pictorial, and Text-Size Effects, Pieters, Rik & Wedel, Michel; Journal of Marketing (2004) [Source]

// How Marketers Can Apply

Think carefully about what words you'd consider to be your most emotional.

You can do this by deeply understanding the language customers use when talking about the problem your product solves or how they feel when they use it.

If you're not sure, do what I do when I work with Choice Hacking clients - interview customers and start to pick out their most emotional words (these could be describing an emotion or a feeling).

I usually take this a step further by creating a Customer Journey Map to help my clients understand what customers are feeling, thinking, and doing at the moments where they're likely to run into your ad.

🧠 3. To sell something surprising, make it familiar (and vice-versa)

People are constantly pulled between two opposing forces:

  • 🤔 Neophilia: A curiosity about new things
  • 😨 Neophobia: The fear of new things

Not understanding this tension is the reason why new products and many marketing campaigns fail.

But the father of industrial design, Raymond Loewy, had an uncanny ability to create irresistible new products.

He cracked the code on what made something "cool."

This was Lowry's proven framework:

“Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”

Also called MAYA.

// What's the psychology behind MAYA?

The Mere Exposure Effect says that the more familiar something becomes, the more we like it.

It's why studies have found that singers who appear more often on screen in reality show or competition settings get more votes.

Even if they're objectively worse singers.

The audience sees their face over and over and starts to like them.

We gravitate to things that are familiar in all sorts of scenarios:

Marketing, branding, pop culture (reboots, anyone?), relationships, etc.

Raymond Loewy created some of most iconic designs in American culture, including the Exxon logo, Air Force One, and Coca-Cola iconic vending machines (just to name a few).

So next time you have to launch a new product, think about how you can make it feel familiar, yet different for customers.

(Above is a brilliant example from Steve Jobs, who famously introduced the iPhone as a combination of a phone, internet browser, and an iPod to make it seem more familiar.)

🧠 4. To get more engagement on social, use "certain" language

Brands post on social media, but most of the time their posts are ignored.

But a recent *study found when brands posted using language that implies certainty (always, forever, everything) they got more likes, shares, and retweets.

// The Study

Certainty in Language Increases Consumer Engagement on Social Media, Pezzuti, Leonhardt, Warren; Journal of Interactive Marketing [Source]

// Why It Works

When brands use “certain” language, people perceive the brand as more powerful.

And people are more likely to engage with “powerful” brands on Facebook and Twitter.

// How Marketers Can Apply This

In social media posts use language like "always, forever, completely":

Instead of saying...

“It’s correct. Customer reviews suggest that we provide good service. You’ll be satisfied.”

Try saying...

“It’s a fact. Customer reviews prove that we provide undeniably good service. You’ll be completely satisfied.”

Instead of saying...

"She might enjoy a diamond."

Try saying...

"A diamond is forever."

Instead of saying...

"Make your day a little better"

Try saying...

"Always Coca-Cola"

🧠 5. To better persuade, use indirect claims - not direct claims

In marketing, we often hear that we should “be clear and direct” when crafting ads.

But actually, research* has found that indirect claims can be more persuasive than direct ones...

// The Study

"Indirect persuasion in advertising: How consumers process metaphors presented in pictures and words", Mcquarrie, Phillips; Journal of Advertising, 2013 [Source]

// Why It Works

Indirect claims ask people to use their imaginations to make connections and come to a conclusion on their own.

// How Marketers Can Apply This

Carefully consider the visuals and copy you use in your ads - consider mixing indirect and direct messaging.

For example, if your copy is direct, use an indirect image. If your copy is indirect use a direct image.

Here are a few examples:

Instead of saying...

“Snickers is filling.”

Try saying...

“You're not you when you're hungry.”

Instead of saying...

“BMWs are good cars.”

Try saying something like...

“The ultimate driving machine.”


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Make your business irresistible.

Hello! I'm Jen Clinehens,

Marketing CX Strategist & 

Founder of Choice Hacking

>> Read more about me on LinkedIn

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