3 examples of how human psychology can impact business writing


Posted Jan. 16, 2018

If you’ve taken a writing course, you know that good writing involves many different skills and principles that must be learned, practiced, and exercised.
Taken a step further, really good writing will even incorporate an understanding of human psychology. In fact, aspects of human psychology can profoundly impact how your readers receive and react to your writing. Here are three examples of ways you can use psychology in writing to provide the quality of your content.

The Decoy Effect

Marketers use the Decoy Effect to lure shoppers into buying the more expensive of two products. They’ll offer two deals and then throw in a decoy. The decoy will be inferior to Deal A (the Deal the marketer wants to sell) but partially superior to Deal B. For example, the decoy will be both more expensive and include less product than Deal A. Meanwhile, the decoy is more expensive than Deal B but includes more product. This makes it difficult to choose between Deal B and the decoy, while Deal A will stand out as the most clearly attractive option. The Decoy Effect is used in marketing and sales writing all the time, but you might also see it used in any kind of email, report, or memo where the writer wants to persuade someone to choose a favored option out of several.  

 The Planning Fallacy

The Planning Fallacy pervades workplace writing; it’s one reason why projections and forecasts are so often wrong, why we underestimate project timelines and budgets, and why we overstate arguments and pitches. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, says the Planning Fallacy is due to misplaced optimism. He gives the example of a study examining numerous rail projects undertaken globally: in 90% of cases, the project leaders overestimated passenger numbers by an average of 106%!
In the Planning Fallacy, people fail to account for “unknown unknowns” while simultaneously treating best-case scenarios as more likely than they are. The Planning Fallacy can be difficult to overcome and we are often incentivized not to do so: we want our proposals to focus on best-case scenarios, for example. But if you’re trying to prepare a realistic report or analysis for your company, do not underestimate risk and do not overvalue potential in your estimations.

The Zeigarnik Effect

Very few business professionals truly enjoy their writing tasks. In fact, we’ve taught multiple classes where we’ve asked how many people like writing, and no one raised their hand! Consequently, many people tend to put off their writing projects. If you find yourself in this situation, be comforted by the Zeigarnik Effect, which means you're more likely to finish a task once you begin it. Specifically, psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that incomplete tasks create a sort of mental tension that drives people to complete them; she also found that people remember incomplete tasks more readily than completed ones.
This is good news for reluctant writers: even if their ideas aren’t fully formed, and they don’t where or how to start, the simple act of beginning the task can create momentum to help push the person toward the finish line. So, the next time you’re procrastinating around a writing task, leverage your own psychology: tell yourself that you’ll just write a little bit – perhaps a few lines of an outline or an introductory sentence or two – and you might be surprised to find your own brain drives you to finish the task, thanks to the Zeigarnik Effect.

To learn about more persuasive writing strategies and further improve the quality of your content, contact us at Hurley Write!
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.