Business Writing Tip of the Week: “Spin”

Can you remember when “spin” was what we did as little kids to make ourselves dizzy and fall down? And then we all laughed so hard?SpinningTop175

“Spin” is not a laughing word today, is it?

In the kindest terms, maybe we could say “spin” is “putting the best face on it,” or maybe just call it “reframing,” helping your reader to see the positive side of what might normally be considered a negative.

For example, pretend you are the copywriter for an advertising campaign promoting a new housing development. Here are some of the facts about this housing development you must deal with. See if you can turn each of them – which would normally be considered negative – into a positive statement about the development:

  1. The new housing development is across the street from the main entrance to a busy urban airport, and directly under the flight path.
  2. There are sidewalks on only one side of the street.
  3. The playground has only one swing.
  4. No required minimum landscaping will be provided.
  5. There is a dangerous swamp in the southeast corner of the development.
  6. The model home blew up last Friday.

Now let’s have a little fun with this exercise. Take a couple of minutes to turn each of these probably negative statements into positive ones.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

So what did you come up with?

Perhaps on negative #1, you thought how perfect this new housing development would be for the busy business traveler, saving commute time, and allowing his or her family to be alerted to his or her return.

Negative #2: Did you think about the sidewalks provided for safe walking, or greater privacy with reduced foot traffic?

For negative #3, how about “Children’s playground thoughtfully designed for cooperative play, and to support sharing.”

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stretch your imagination and create the unbelievably beautiful garden you have dreamed of, and only imagined until now,” might work for negative #4.

And of course the dangerous swamp in negative #5 can easily be translated into an unusual wildlife preserve allowing your family to observe nature at first hand.

Finally, the model home in negative #6 that blew up last Friday?  “Only one home has not met our rigorous standards, and it was promptly removed last Friday.”

You’ve probably come up with many other negatives-into-positives, and I hope you have had some fun with this exercise. Let us hear from you!

Now that we have the general idea of negative-into-positive with this light-hearted exercise, let’s get a little more serious. Over the next week, listen for “reframing” statements. Listen to the ads, listen to the news, listen to your co-workers, customers, and clients. Listen for how your family members – kids are particularly good at this – manage to “put the best face on” what could be a negative situation or fact.

Word choice can also be a tool of “spin.”

We all recognize connotative words, words like “propaganda,” “gossip,” and “manipulate” – words that carry baggage. Words that in and of themselves can create a negative emotion. And of course there are also words that in and of themselves can create a positive emotion.

But let’s talk about “neutral words,” and how they can be ramped up, or ramped down to inflame emotion, or to calm emotion. For two examples, let’s use the words “situation,” and “important.”

How many ways can you think of to say “situation”? Take a minute here to jot down half a dozen or more as they occur to you.

Which of these words might, under certain circumstances, create a panic? Which are the potentially inflammatory words? Crisis? Disaster? Catastrophe?

Which of these words could you use to calm a general sense of panic? Which neutral words tend to minimize the serious nature of a crisis? Situation? Issue? Matter?

Now let’s look at “important.” Well just how important is “important”? Not very is it? How much attention do you pay when someone says, “This is an important issue”? Let’s ramp it up a bit. How about critical, crucial, life-threatening? Dire, desperate, or grave? Even there you can see various levels indicating just how important this issue may be.

And to ramp it down? Important? Worth consideration? Or fairly serious?

While thinking about the quality, nature, and potential effect of the words you use may not be critical, crucial, or life-threatening, probably not even dire, desperate, or grave, I do hope you will find it worth your consideration this week.

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