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Words that convey certainty

Probability Language

Probability language refers to the choice of words we use when we’re trying to convey to another person the likelihood of us doing something, or of something happening. We’re highly sensitive to it and use it effortlessly.

Look at the group of words in the picture above. Put them in order from weak to strong, based on the likelihood they convey. For example, if you think someone saying “I’ll probably attend” signals a greater likelihood than if they say “I’ll possibly attend”, then you’d list “probably” as stronger than “possibly”.

Few people will put all of these words in exactly the same order, but your top few probably included, “guaranteed”, “definitely” and “certain”, and your bottom ones included the words “hope”, “consider”, “intend to” and “try”.

Let's imagine someone invites you to an event. You're not sure if you want to go and you don't want to upset the host. You may find yourself using words like “maybe” or “possibly” in your reply. We also effortlessly add nuance to these words. “I’m sure” is stronger than “I’m pretty sure”.

A sign you aren’t fully confident in the service or product you offer is when you water down your language and say things like “maybe”, “try to” and “possibly”. “Our role is to help”, “to support”, “sometimes this happens”, “you might find”…

You want customers to know they are going to benefit hugely from your service or product, or even be transformed by it. (Or else what are you designing it for?)

Check to see if you are using weak probability language. If you find any, can you use stronger words instead?

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