By Liezl van Zyl

Good vibes only. How positive language can change your reader’s mood by altering their brain chemistry!

Using positive language instead of negative language is a popular plain language writing tip. Here's why!
Colourful word collage good vibes only

You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, but have you thought about applying the power of positive language to your writing? Using positive language not only creates a positive tone, but can strengthen areas of the brain to promote cognitive function. If you know you’re presenting your reader with a challenging topic, win them over and set them up for success by using positive language.

Here’s how it works.

Our brain chemistry affects the way we feel. When we think happy thoughts and feel joy, our cortisol levels decrease, and the brain creates serotonin in response. When our serotonin levels are normal, we feel happy, calm, less anxious and more focused.

What’s more, positive emotions impact the prefrontal cortex, increasing activity, enthusiasm, and drive. The best part is that these positive emotions

  • improve our ability to think creatively;
  • increase our intellectual adaptability and processing capacity; and
  • increase our ability to pay attention.

Conversely, negative thoughts

  • slow down our processing ability;
  • make it difficult for us to find solutions to problems; and
  • impair our creative thinking abilities.

What happens when we’re faced with bad news or complex messages

When we’re faced with bad news or negative messages (like interest rate hikes, fuel price increases, unsuccessful claims, or one-sided terms and conditions), our amygdala (that primitive lizard brain that responds to stressors) activates our fight, flight, or faint response. Our reasoning and creativity take a nose dive and we struggle to see a solution to the problem that we’re faced with.

If you know that you’re delivering a message that is either negative or difficult to understand, try to convert your negative statements to positive statements. If using positive language can make your reader feel more positive, they’ll be smarter, more focused, and more creative. Ditching the negatives is a no-brainer. But what might that look like? Here are some examples of negative statements and their positive alternatives.

Don’t say this Say this instead
We can’t deliver the order before Friday. The order will be ready on Friday.
You do not qualify for cover unless you are 18 years or older. You qualify for cover if you are 18 years or older.
We do not cover coins that are not more than six years old. We only cover coins that are more than six years old.
As a general rule, researchers must not use research data for any other purpose than the research data was originally collected for. Generally, researchers may only use research data for their original purpose.
Research-related records can be retained indefinitely if they are not retained for purposes other than research. Research-related records can be retained indefinitely if they are only retained for research purposes.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be writing more about how positive language can make your writing more persuasive and easier to understand. There are others doing incredible work with the ultimate feel-good tool – humour – in communication. Check out Humor Seriously to see what they have to say about using humour in serious situations, and follow Elizabeth de Stadler to learn how to take humour in law beyond the lawyer joke.

Do you need help turning a negative or complex message into a positive experience for your reader? We can help!