Putting Statements in a Positive Form

The human mind has trouble comprehending negations. Consider the command: “Don’t think about the colour red.” You cannot help first thinking of red! In your brain, you have to consciously cancel thinking about “red” and then think of another colour.

In regards to reducing negatives, I am going to share some examples from Stunk and White’s The Elements of Style and from Jim Taylor’s Eight-Step Editing.

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colourless, hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word  “not” as means of denial or antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

See below for examples.

He was not very often on time.       He usually came late.

She did not think that studying Latin was a sensible way to spend one’s time.       She thought the study of Latin was a waste of time.

This just makes sense to me. The more negatives, the more a reader is slowed down. Give the positive to the reader to suggest where you’re going, then the negatives work. As a rule, express even a negative in the positive form.

not honest   –   dishonest

not important    –   trifling

did not remember   –   forgot

did not pay attention to   –   ignored

Negatives interfere readability. If the number of negatives are reduced; readability and comprehension is increased. Negatives force the reader to take two mental steps. First they have to figure out the positive, then, they can understand the negative alternative. For example, non-violent demonstration means nothing until compared with violent demonstration.

Placing a negative and then a positive in opposition creates a stronger structure.

Not charity, but simple justice.

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

Writing tip: circle every “un,” “in-,” “non,” and “not.” Also watch for “anti,” and “ir-.” Then replace as many as possible with positive statements.

Structurally be aware of arguments based on negatives. I suggest presenting a positive and then tackle the objection.

Yours in scribing!