Ever noticed how some writers have an uncanny ability to toy with your emotions?
Within the span of a few pages, you can go from shaking with excitement to bawling your eyes out to flying into a rage and throwing the book across the room. It’s the hallmark of great writing, proof of mastery of the craft, and the yardstick by which aspiring writers measure their work.
And it goes beyond storytelling.
Sure, taking the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride is essential in novels and short stories, but what about emails, resumes, blog posts, proposals? They’re all designed to influence the reader in some way. You want to pass along information, yes, but you also want the reader to feel a certain way about that information.
Maybe you want to impress them, get them excited, make them cautious, get them angry, encourage them to keep going, or any number of emotions. The better a job you do at making them feel, the more influential you are, and the better your chances of getting what you want.
So, you might wonder… how?
The world is full of people who can scribble down their ideas, but to bring those ideas to life, to make them take up residence in the mind of the reader, lurking in the background, tugging, pulling, and cajoling their emotions until they think and feel exactly as you want? That’s a rare skill indeed.
The good news is it can be yours. There’s even a shortcut.
How to Instantly Become a Better Writer
Use power words.
Rather than describe what I mean, let’s deconstruct an example from the great Winston Churchill:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Well, there was a lot on the line. Under attack from Germany, Britain was fighting for its survival, and somehow, someway, Churchill had to find a way to inspire his countrymen to greatness.
He chose words. Or, to be more accurate, power words.
Let’s take a look at the passage again, this time with all the power words underlined:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstroustyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Each underlined word makes the audience feel something. In this case, Churchill intermixes words that cause fear, such as “struggle,” “tyranny,” and “terror,” with words that cause hope, such as “strength,” “God,” and “victory.” The last, in particular, is repeated over and over, practically drilling the emotion into the minds of the audience.
It’s no accident. Smart speakers, as well as their speechwriters, sprinkle their speeches with carefully-chosen power words, drawing the audience from one emotion to another as skillfully as any novelist or screenwriter.
Granted, that’s not all they do. The best writers use an entire tool chest of techniques to create emotion, and power words are only one such tool.
But there’s good news.
For beginning writers, power words are one of the easiest tools to master. Unlike many storytelling strategies which can take years of practice to master, you can start sprinkling power words into your writing, and you’ll notice an immediate lift in the quality of your prose.
All you lack is a list of power words to use, but of course, I have you covered there too. 🙂
317 Power Words to Start Using Immediately
For years now, every time I mentioned power words to my students, someone always asked:
“Where can I get a list? Is there a book I can buy?”
Sadly, not that I’m aware of. That’s why I created this list.
Slowly, over a period of several weeks, I catalogued all the power words that jumped out to me, organizing them into categories based on the emotion you want to create, so you can easily find the right word. In the future, I’ll also update the list, adding new words on a regular basis to make it the most comprehensive list of power words available anywhere.
It costs nothing. All I ask in return is you share it with your friends and readers when appropriate, helping it reach the people who need it most.
Want a handy PDF containing all 317 Power Words (plus 50 exclusive bonus words) to download and keep? Get it Here.
Calling All Fearmongers
Let’s do a little experiment.
Just for a moment, stop reading this post, turn on the television, and go to a major news channel. Watch it for five minutes, listening for the words below.
Chances are, you’ll hear dozens of them. Here’s why:
Fear is without a doubt the most powerful emotion for grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention. To make sure you don’t change the channel, news networks load up with fear words, making you worry you might miss something important.
It’s effective. Granted, you can overdo it, but in my opinion, most writers don’t use these types of words nearly enough. They really do connect with people.
Here’s a bunch to get you started:
Give Your Readers a Pep Talk
Let’s face it.
When they’re reading, most people aren’t exactly bouncing off the walls with energy and enthusiasm. They’re probably bored, maybe a little depressed, and almost definitely tired. And they’re looking for something, anything, that’ll wake them up and make them feel better.
The good news?
Your writing can do that for them. Use these power words to give them a pep talk and get them charged up again:
Take a Page from Cosmopolitan (or Playboy)
Like it or not, lust is one of the core human emotions.
Just look at the men’s and women’s magazines in the checkout aisle, and you’ll see what I mean. Nearly every headline on the cover is either blatantly or indirectly about sex.
And it works, not just for men’s and women’s magazines, but for anything. As a writer, you can use words that inspire lust to make almost anything intriguing.
For example: take a look at these two posts I wrote for Copyblogger:
Sex, Lies, and the Art of Commanding Attention
Copyblogger Editor Admits to Sleeping with Readers and Recommends You Do the Same
Both posts use the power of lust to teach people about headlines, of all things. Proof positive that it can be used for anything.
Here’s a lascivious list to get you started:
Start a Riot
As writers, sometimes our job is to anger people.
Not for the fun of it, mind you, but because someone is doing something wrong, and the community needs to take action to correct it. The problem is, with wrongdoing, most people are pretty apathetic – they’ll wait until the situation becomes entirely intolerable to do anything, and by then, it’s often too late.
So, we have to fan the flames. By using the below power words, you can connect with people’s anger, and slowly but surely, you can work them into a frenzy. Just be careful who you target. Lawyers can eat you alive if you pick on the wrong person. 🙂
Know it all
Sick and Tired
Stomp on Their Greed Glands
The legendary copywriter Gary Halbert once said, “If you want people to buy something, stomp on their greed glands until they bleed.” Graphic, yes, but also true.
Skim through good sales copy, and you’ll find a lot of these power words. Many of them are so overused they’ve become cliché, but that doesn’t stop them from working.
The truth is, nearly every human being on the planet is interested in either making or saving money. Use these words to tap into those desires:
Make Them Feel Safe
Greed isn’t the only emotion you want buyers to feel. You also want to make them feel safe.
They need to trust both you and your product or service. They need to have confidence you’ll deliver. They need to believe they’ll get results.
Of course, building that kind of trust starts with having a quality brand and reputation, but the words you use to describe yourself and your product or service also matter. To help your customers feel safe, try to use as many of these power words as possible:
No Questions Asked
No Strings Attached
Try before You Buy
Offer Them a Forbidden Fruit
Remember when you were a kid, and someone told you NOT to do something? From that point on, you could think about little else, right?
The truth is, we’re all fascinated by the mysterious and forbidden. It’s like it’s programmed into our very nature.
So why not tap into that programming?
Whenever you need to create curiosity, sprinkle these power words throughout your writing, and readers won’t be able to help being intrigued:
Behind the Scenes
Want a handy PDF containing all 317 Power Words (plus 50 exclusive bonus words) to download and keep? Get it Here.
Go Ahead and Tell Me. What Words Did I Miss?
Yes, this is an enormous list, but so many power words are available, nobody can possibly catch them all on the first pass. What are some other words that seem to have that extra little spark of emotion inside them?
Leave your answer in the comments, and as time goes by, I’ll come back periodically and update the list. Eventually, I hope to have over 1,000 words here, separated and organized by category, making this the definitive resource for power words on the web.
Thanks in advance for commenting and sharing the post with your friends!
About the Author: Jon Morrow has asked repeatedly to be called “His Royal Awesomeness” but no one listens to him. So, he settles for CEO of Smart Blogger. Poor man. 🙂
“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” – A.A. Milne
Chances are you too know a few famous quotes, but you probably don’t use them. I know so, because I’m guilty of neglecting quotes on the GRE.
So, why should you use essay quotes on the GRE? To start with, the right use of quotes in essays augments the power of your arguments and makes your essays appear more convincing. Plus, essays with quotes tend to score better than essays without them, because of the initial impact the use of quotes create on the reader, and help strengthen your point.
But we need to exercise prudence. Only use quotes as is, if you are convinced that paraphrasing would lower the impact or change the meaning of the original author’s words or when the argument could not be better expressed or said more succinctly.
Here is how you make sure you are doing it right.
How do I incorporate quotes into my essay?
At times, an essay can appear painfully discorded if the quotations are out of place or if the essay is too stuffed with quotes.
So, what should you do to avoid this?
A great quote plays one or more roles from the following:
- creates the initial impact on the essay grader
- makes your essay look more promising and interesting
- establishes credibility
- concludes the essay with a point to contemplate
If the quote doesn’t serve any of the above then you are forcing it into the essay and this could do more harm than good.
You should start writing your essay with a quote that lays foundation to the main idea behind the essay. This can have a major impact on the evaluator. You can also comment on the quotation in this introductory paragraph if you wish. Either way, to get a perfect score on the GRE essay, use a relevant quote strategically but don’t force it into the essay.
Can I alter the structure of the quotation?
Using the exact words from the original source is called quoting. You should quote when you believe that the way the original author expresses an idea is the most effective way to communicate the point you wish to make. If you want to borrow an idea from the author but don’t put the idea in their exact words, then it’s called paraphrasing. (but remember that you still have to cite the original author even when you are paraphrasing)
For example, Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” You can alter the quotation on your own according to the passage, by saying: ‘To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “It is easier to trust when you can verify.”‘ By doing this, you are not only citing the original author, but also gaining extra points for using your own version of the quote.
How many quotes should I use?
If you deploy a lot of quotations in your essay, it appears as though several people are talking about the topic apart from yourself. This would downplay your own voice and leaves little room for your own ideas. It is your essay and it should be your voice that needs to be heard, not some notable/famous person’s. Quote as infrequently as possible. So, don’t cram every quote you know into the essay. As a rule of thumb, refrain from using more than 2 quotes in any essay. (One in the introductory paragraph and the other if necessary in the conclusion)
How do I introduce the quote in my own words?
The last thing you would want is get your score cancelled on account of plagiarism. It’s highly recommended that you cite the author of the quotation. If you don’t cite, you may give the impression that you claim to be the original author and that could result in plagiarism. You should place the quote in double quotation marks. Here is an example usage citing the author:
Thomas Jefferson once said “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”
Categorization of GRE Essay Topics
The fascinating thing about the GRE essay topics is that they’re already published on the official ETS website. This may sound crazy because giving out the questions in advance is not normal. Now, use this to your advantage. You can find all the GRE essay topics on the official ETS website.
But there’s a catch! You were expecting a few, right?
Well, there are close to 200 topics in all – far too many to practice responses in advance. Also, practicing each of these topics is not advisable as it is going to take a lot of time and effort and there is no point in mugging them up. You could as well spend this time on learning some math. However, there’s a good news. Just scanning through these two lists will give you an excellent idea of the types of issues and arguments that show up on test day.
I just made things a bit easy for you, though. Most of the topics that show up on the GRE essay section can be broadly grouped into five categories.
- Sciences and Technology
So, next time when you practice writing an essay response, make sure you write at least one essay from each of these categories. And memorize a few quotes related to each one of these topics, as they will be handy.
List of most useful essay quotes
I’ve compiled a list of easy-to-digest quotes that should help you write the perfect essay. Bookmark this page NOW for future reference.
The following quotes from great thinkers have been selected based on their relevance to common GRE essay topics and for their ease of usage.
- The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance – Socrates
- A people that value its privileges above its principles soon loses both – Dwight D. Eisenhower
- In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is – Yogi Berra
- A little inaccuracy can sometimes save a ton of explanation – H.H Munro
- Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction – E. F. Schumacher
- A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually – Abba Eban
- Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good – Mohandas Gandhi
- Whatever government is not a government of laws, is a despotism, let it be called what it may – Daniel Webster
- Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws – Plato
- Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing – Theodore Roosevelt
- It is dangerous to be right, when the government is wrong – Voltaire
- The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object – Thomas Jefferson
- No nation is fit to sit in judgment upon any other nation – Woodrow Wilson (28th U.S President)
- The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work – Emile Zola
- The world is full of educated derelicts – Calvin Coolidge
- A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a change to get its pants on – Winston Churchill
- It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog – Mark Twain
- Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is to get it – Socrates
- If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning – Aristotle Onasis
- Men are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things – Epictetus
- As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can – Julius Caesar
Now, these are a handful of quotes. The goal is to memorize 5 or 6 of your favorite quotes so you’ll be able to contextually fit one into the essay on the test day. While practicing, you may look at the list of quotes found above however, if you can remember a specific quote apposite to your essay topic, try to use it – one quote for every essay.
For those avid writers, who believe the number of quotes above are too low, we have the right tool for you. Ellipsoid created a random quote generator tool that draws 5 famous quotes from Goodreads every time you reload the page. The good news is these 5 quotes are always theme based so you know where to use them.
Writing essays isn’t all about the substance. It’s the basics that many of us forget. If you are going to put in the time to practice writing essays, might as well maximize the score you could get by deploying a quote in your essays.
So, what’s your favorite quote?