Scientists love their HOWEVERs. It’s the more diplomatic, less forceful word of contradiction with which to introduce the problem portion of your ABT. We have data to show how much scientists love it. BUT … the more powerful and more widely used word of contradiction is THE BUT BOMB. Keep that in mind in matching your content to your INNER CIRCLE versus OUTER CIRCLE audiences.
TONE DEAF? Okay, maybe this wasn’t the most tactful t-shirt for us to make for our World Bank friends given current world events, BUT … come on, have a sense of humor (please insert in your mind a smiley face emoji here). The term BUT BOMB was coined by the graduate students of Drs. Marlis Douglas and Keisha Bahr and first presented in our latest version of the NARRATIVE GYM series of books.
CHOOSING YOUR WORD OF CONTRADICTION
Narrative structure consists of three forces: AGREEMENT, CONTRADICTION, CONSEQUENCE. The ABT Narrative Template embodies these three forces. It uses the most common word of agreement (AND), the most common word of contradiction (BUT), and the most powerful word of consequence (THEREFORE). These three elements add up to AND, BUT, THEREFORE which is the ABT.
So here’s what’s fascinating about the central element. BUT is the most commonly used word of contradiction, but … there are other words that can work as well. The most common alternative to BUT is HOWEVER.
So why use BUT versus HOWEVER?
BUTs OVER HOWEVERs
Last fall a group of us from the ABT Framework course compiled a few stats on our two Narrative Metrics (the AND Frequency and the Narrative Index of BUTs to ANDs). Early on, Marlis Douglas suggested that we also count the use of the word HOWEVER by scientists. Sure enough, there was a pattern.
What we found was that writers in the New Yorker almost never use the word HOWEVER. Their average ratio of HOWEVERs to BUTs was 0.02.
The IUCN reports had a much higher usage with the average score of 0.53.
But the highest use of HOWEVER was the pure research papers of Molecular Ecology which averaged 0.78 — approaching 1.0 which would be using HOWEVER as much as BUT. In fact, a few of the papers did have more HOWEVERs than BUTs.
HOWEVER IS FOR DIPLOMATS, BUT IS FOR THE PUBLIC
In 2015 I did an ABT workshop with 15 diplomats from the State Department. They told me that one of the first things they are taught in their training is to never use the word BUT. The same thing happens with improv actors.
Why? Because BUT is so powerful, and is a word of negation.
BUT … they had nothing to say about HOWEVER, nor do improv actors. Why? Because it is a softer, less forceful word, which makes it perfect for diplomacy (or beating around the bush).
IMPORTANT PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE: THE HOWEVER HAMMER VS. THE BUT BOMB
So here’s the big point. Think about your audience. If they are your INNER CIRCLE they’re already listening closely to you. They don’t need to have their attention grabbed. In fact, they would appreciate if you’d respect their knowledge and be a little more gentle with them. That’s the whole idea of diplomacy — speaking softly. So you use HOWEVER as your word of contradiction in the ABT structure.
Think of it as THE HOWEVER HAMMER — a delicate tool for fine detail work. It’s a much softer tool than the BUT BOMB.
Now think about your OUTER CIRCLE — they’re not listening as closely, are not as clued in on what you’re saying, and more likely to need a jolt to get their attention. Writers at The New Yorker know this intuitively, and that’s why they use BUT almost exclusively as their word of contradiction.
So that’s what you need to learn here.
Chose the right tool for the right job. If you’re talking to scientists or diplomats, use more HOWEVERs. If you’re talking to the general public, you want lots of BUTs.
It’s a simple difference, BUT … is a fundamental element of effective communication.
You can learn lots more about narrative metrics in my 5th book, Narrative Is Everything.