Article Writing for Newbies – The Little Verb That Could

The Little Engine That Could

Do you remember the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could”? So what does that have to do with article writing for newbies? Let me tell you a story.

Article Writing for Newbies
Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

I remember my grandmother reading that book aloud. It has stuck with me all these years. Maybe it’s one that you were fortunate enough to have been exposed to.

That little engine’s chant, “I think I can, I think I can, …” is burned into the psyche of more than one generation along with “I had a dream” and “Ask not what your country can do for you …”

I would ask my Mom or Dad, “Can I do this or can I do that?” I no sooner finished asking the question when they would respond with another question, “I don’t know. Can you?”

Of course, what I meant to ask and should have asked was, “May I do this or that?” I was asking for permission using the wrong word. They knew what I was attempting to express, but they were teaching me a powerful lesson.

They were pointing out that only I knew whether I could. They would allow me or not allow me but, only I could. If you are parent, you may have done that too. They were also teaching me that using some words loosely does not always get the desired result.

Article Writing and That Little Verb

So what does this story have to do with article writing? I have read many sales pages and articles and noticed that very often the author uses the word ‘can’ when using the word ‘will’ would do better to get the author’s desired result.

What do you as an article writer want? You want the reader to click through and read another page or read a sales presentation. By using the word ‘can’ instead of ‘will’, you are giving the reader a chance to question whether he or she can do whatever it is that you are you asking him to do.


For example, “You can learn to speak fluent Mandarin.” As opposed to, “You will learn to speak fluent Mandarin.”

In the first, the reader has an out. He has a choice to make. It is easier to see in the negative. He can say, “No, I cannot. I can’t even spell in English, let alone Mandarin. I really can’t do it.” Is it that he can’t or that he won’t (will not)?

In the second example, “You will learn to speak fluent Mandarin.” You are not giving the reader an opportunity to question himself. You are telling him that it is a done deal. You are telling the reader that by taking your course or buying your product, he will have Mandarin.

In the second choice,the choice factor does not exist. It may be a subtle play on words. Nevertheless, it works.

As powerful as the three-letter verb ‘can’ is, it does not match the power of the little verb ‘will’. As I said, it is most powerful in promotional articles, the pre-sell article.

But, it does work in any context. Try it in your article marketing. I think you will find that it changes the sense of your promotional articles and makes them more powerful and more convincing.

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