20 killer words and 13 words that kill

love trap

People make buying decisions based on rational and emotional motivations. When structuring your writing you need to identify how you can appeal to both.

In “Confessions of an Advertising Man” David Ogilvy listed the 20 most persuasive words in advertising:

  1. suddenly
  2. now
  3. announcing
  4. introducing
  5. improvement
  6. amazing
  7. sensational
  8. remarkable
  9. revolutionary
  10. startling
  11. miracle
  12. magic
  13. offer
  14. quick
  15. easy
  16. wanted
  17. challenge
  18. compare
  19. bargain
  20. hurry

Persuasive words strike the fine balance between being rational and emotive whereas powerless words lack purpose and undermine the credibility of your writing.

Words to avoid

  1. But
  2. Try
  3. Don’t
  4. Should
  5. Need to
  6. Have to
  7. Could
  8. Maybe
  9. Perhaps
  10. Might
  11. Possibly
  12. Potentially
  13. Think

8 Responses to 20 killer words and 13 words that kill

  1. Alex Cristache August 6, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    Excellent post Laura! Indeed, people are much easier to convince when using decisive, strong words. If you try to push your statements too aggressively (Need to, have to) or don’t believe in your own statements (maybe, perhaps) why should they listen to you?

    Of course, “Probably the best beer in the world” will continue too be an exception to the rule, but one you cannot pull that often. :)

  2. Zachary Overline August 9, 2010 at 2:44 am #

    The kitsch of some of the entries in Ogilvy’s list of persuasive words is actually kind of surprising.

    That is, erm… they are amazingly, remarkably, and revolutionarily surprising :)

  3. Neil August 9, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    I disagree with avoiding “but”.

    Good writing is about conflict – well, maybe not always, but a lot of the time.

    “But” exudes conflict. “you wanted x, but you got y…” “You thought xx, but yy”.

    “However” is no substitute.

    I couldn’t get by without it.

  4. Einat Adar August 11, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Interesting list.
    I’d take Ogilvy’s words as an inspiration rather than stick to the specific words. Most of them are over-used.

  5. Elizabeth Mueller December 13, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    The words to avoid are words that writers should avoid to in their books so that it doesn’t feel like a weak, boring read! Thanks for the wonderful post! ;)

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