August 3rd, 2009 by Bob Bly
Experienced copywriters know that strong language has greater effect on the reader than weak, watered-down, mealy mouthed prose.
And now a study in the journal NeuroReport proves the power of strong language to regulate human feeling and experience (as reported in Time, 8/10/09, p. 15).
In the study, 64 college students were asked to immerse their hands in ice water for as long as possible. They were allowed to talk. But in one test, the students were permitted to swear; in the other, they could not.
Result: swearing not only allowed students to withstand the icy water longer but also decreased their perception of pain intensity.
The researchers found that people have an emotional response to swearing, which increases heart rate. The emotional response somehow triggers the reduction of pain.
Am I suggesting that we curse in copy? No.
But I AM advocating use of conversational language rather than stiff formal prose or “corporatese” in your copy.
Write naturally, in a way that sounds like people talk — only cleaned up and smoother flowing, without all the stumbles.
Unsure of how colloquial vs. formal to make your copy because of your audience? Then follow this rule of thumb:
If you have to err on the side of being TOO conversational vs. being TOO formal (because of your client or the audience you are writing for), err on the side of being too formal rather than being too high falutin.
In my 3 decades as a copywriter, no PhD, scientist, engineer, or programmer has ever complained to a client of mine that the web site or brochure I wrote for them was too easy to read.
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