Games psychologists play

How to write a best-selling self-help book

Would you buy a book entitled Talking to One's Self, with the boldly asserted subtitle: Understand the Emotional Problems of Life, Love, Attitude and Expectation through Family Communication? According to a recent research paper "Rated relevance of words in self-help psychology books" (by James J Forest, in Psychological Reports, 1997) that title includes all the words most likely to appeal to readers of such books and to propel books containing them into the best-seller lists. The experiment was in two parts. First, random samples of the text of two best-selling self-help psychology books were compared with similar samples from two non-best-selling books. Analysis of word frequencies revealed 128 high- frequency words.

The words were then shown to 42 female and 50 male psychology students, who were asked to rate each word according to its relevance to psychological self-help. The results showed that higher ratings were given to words that appeared more frequently in the best-sellers. Here are the top 15 words, for men and women:

Women Men

1. self 1. self

2. communication 2. attitude

3. attitude 3. life

4. life 4. communication

5. understand 5. family

6. talking 6. talking

7. problems 7. problems

8. family 8. love

9. expectations 9. understand

10. friends 10. behaviour

11. emotional 11. people

12. feel 12. emotional

13. relationship 13. responsibility

14. love 14. control

15. parents 15. sense

While the two lists have 10 words in common, it is interesting to note that women yearn for better expectations of a feeling relationship with parents and friends, while men would rather relate to people through a sense of control and responsibility in their behaviour.

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