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Want to Persuade? Use the World’s Most Powerful Word

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 3.8.24

Yes is a very powerful word,” writes award-winning Canadian author Kenneth Oppel in his award-winning children’s novel, The Nest. “It’s like opening a door. It’s like fanning a flame. It’s the most powerful word in the world.”

Yes certainly ranks right up there with other persuasive powerhouses like you, save, new, now, because, discover, prove, and easy. It may be the most powerful word of them all for one simple reason. It offers what so many of our hearts hunger for: affirmation.

Say "Yes" to persuade with the world's most powerful word. Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter ##WritingTips #PowerWords #PersuasiveWriting

The science of “yes”

But first, the facts. Including the word Yes in your content is not just a feel-good writing strategy. Science confirms the persuasive impact of a literal thumbs-up.

This according to a National Institutes of Health study conducted by researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Columbia University, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The scientists measured brain activity while participants were exposed to emphatic words.

Results showed that No and Yes were associated with opposite brain-behavior responses. No produced slower response times and a negative signal in the frontal cortex. Meanwhile, Yes delivered faster response times and evoked a positive signal.

Yes, you read that right. Your reader’s brain lights up more quickly with a Yup, Alrighty, Okey Dokey, Of course, or Sure thing than it does with Negative Nellie language.

Why else should you use “yes” when you write?

But beyond the science lay other compelling reasons to use this simple, 3-letter word. Think about how Yes plays out in your everyday conversation. Now, draw a parallel with what happens in your writing. A literal or figurative nod of a head …

  • Shows agreement. When you say Yes, you identify with the reader. You align with her point of view. You understand her worries and create a rapport. Yes gives your reader confidence that she is accepted. There it is in black and white: you affirm her.
  • Demonstrates openness. The human brain is wired with a negativity bias, meaning there’s more neural activity with negative stimulation than with positive. It’s a means of self-preservation. Your brain helps protect your body by shouting warning signals when danger is near. That’s why your reader anticipates a No — and why a positive response is refreshing. Yes can help soften the opposition and make your audience more receptive to alternative viewpoints. “Too much No thwarts growth and learning,” says Lori S. Katz, Ph.D. “While a simple Yes can open doors for problem-solving, creativity, and cultivating possibilities.”
  • Builds trust. All that negative conditioning in our brains means using Yes, quite simply, takes more work for writers than No. When you purposely use Yes (or a variation), you create a positive environment. You earn the right to be heard by switching up expectations.
Say Yes to Persuade with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #PersuasiveWriting #WritingTips #PowerWords

How to use the most powerful word in the world when you write

Now, to the practicalities. Use Yes to persuade with these writing tips.

1. First, agree

“Yes, we all want to write more persuasively. Here’s one word that can help you do so.”

2. Use yes in headlines and subheads

Grab your reader’s attention and convey a positive message visually.

“Say Yes to Persuade.”

3. Ask rhetorical questions

Write conversationally, using questions that can be answered with a mental Yes to engage your reader in a back-and-forth chat as she reads.

“Have you ever wondered if there’s a simple word you can use to engage with your reader right from your first paragraph? Yes, I have too.”

4. Answer with yes — and evidence

After starting with a Yes, provide evidence or examples to support your claim. Facts add substance to your message.

“Yes, science confirms the positive impact of a literal thumbs-up….”

5. Give yes in your call to action

Use Yes in your call to action — even on clickable buttons.

“Yes, you can write more persuasively right now when you …”

Say “yes” to empower your readers

“If someone were to click on a link that says ‘YES! I WANT THE BUNDLE!’ they are literally saying to themselves ‘Yes, I want to buy it,’” says celebrated blogger Lena Gott. “The chances of them buying go up and up.” The Yes in print helps them identify the Yes in their minds.

So a simple Yes does more than simply persuade your readers to embrace your viewpoint. It empowers them to act.

Acceptance, affirmation, trust, openness: each contributes to the persuasive power of Yes. But a word that empowers people to act? That means these three little letters bring about change in your readers.

Which is one of the biggest reasons Yes has been called the most powerful word in the world.

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