Do Not Write Not

Huh? Do NOT write not?

Either it’s one of those existentialistic word traps (I eat, therefore I burp) or else this author is pulling off one of those contradictory grammar lessons (never say never).

Lucky for you, it’s the latter. Lucky because the lesson is far more valuable. Though I am simultaneously pondering the wild ride we could go on if taking the other direction. Maybe some other time.

The question of the day: How often do you use the word “not” — or forms thereof?

“Don’t forget to come.”

“You can’t have the blue one.”

“It’s not brain surgery.”

“Do not touch this.”

In his book, Remember the Ice, author Bob Nicoll reveals what I consider to be one of the greatest rules in all of the communication arts: tell a person what TO do. Whenever you tell a person what NOT to do, you accomplish two things. First, you get the person to think mostly about the thing they are to avoid. And second, you create another kind of chaos, that is, the concept of doing nothing.

Think about it. I say to you, “Don’t think of the color blue.” Two problems emerge. First, you think of the color blue. Second, your mind grapples with how to act upon the concept of not acting. In fact, there’s a third problem. What would you have me do instead? Don’t walk … does that mean stand still? Run? Knit a sweater?

Tell people what you want them to do and they are more likely to do just that. Here’s a fun exercise … let’s reconstruct those samples above:

“Remember to come.”

“You can have the red one.”

“It’s actually quite easy.”

“Keep your hands at your sides,” or, “You may touch anything but this.”

Wow … wow.

So, fellow communicator. Want more bang out of your writing? Every time you write the word not (or its n’t forms), reword the sentence to say what you really mean. You’d be surprised what it can do to your conversion rate.

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