People and words

How to build trust with words

Saying that words are building blocks is stating a commonplace. But it’s true. Words are the building blocks of language. Written and spoken, they can connect and elevate people. Words can also build trust. Here’s how.

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker writes in The Sense of Style:

[…] style earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about consistency and accuracy in her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily.

In other words, if a text used to sell a product or service is – in the eyes of the reader – written in an even manner and without mistakes, the reader will probably feel more confident that the product or service does what the text says it will do. A similar case can be made for text to promote a company, brand, person, policy or simply an idea. Or scripts for video, tv and radio commercials.

The choice of words

Some words are good at conveying trust. Pinker, above, is well aware of this and he uses words like trust, consistency, accuracy and reassured. He also appeals to our feelings about fairness by saying that style earns trust. Many of us think that if we earn something, we deserve it, and therefore it’s fair that we get it.

Trust is a precious commodity in marketing and corporate communication. Good copywriters build trust by using words that convey trust, and by writing with clarity. However, that’s often not enough to persuade a sceptical consumer or doubtful purchase manager. For copy to be successful, it also has to appeal to the heart, and make a convincing argument.

A  convincing argument

An argument can be different things. I’m not talking about a shouting match or assertions like “We’re the best” and “Probably the best” – they don’t convince anybody.

A convincing argument presents clear and honest evidence and its conclusion follows logically from that proof. Here’s a classical example:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.


Humans sometimes make mistakes.
Writers are human.
A writer can make a mistake.

Sometimes it’s unnecessary to spell out the argument – it can be implied or suggested, and then the trick is to create a line of reasoning in the reader’s mind.

Other tools

Using words that convey trust and making a convincing argument are only two aspects of building trust with words. Other tools of successful copywriting include showing empathy, conjuring up mental images and evoking the right emotion.

If you’re interested in the features of building trust with words, my workshops may be something for you.