We analyze properties of links which have diagrams with a small number of negative crossings. We show that if a nontrivial link has a diagram with all crossings positive except possibly one, then the signature of the link is negative. If a link diagram has two negative crossings, we show that the signature of the link is nonpositive with the exception of the left-handed Hopf link (possibly, with extra trivial components). We also characterize those links which have signature zero and diagrams with two negative crossings. In particular, we show that if a nontrivial knot has a diagram with two negative crossings then the signature of the knot is negative, unless the knot is a twist knot with negative clasp. We completely determine all trivial link diagrams with two or fewer negative crossings. For a knot diagram with three negative crossings, the signature of the knot is nonpositive except for the left-handed trefoil knot. These results generalize those of Rudolph, Cochran, Gompf, Traczyk and Przytycki, solve [27, Conjecture 5], and give a partial answer to [3, Problem 2.8] about knots dominating the trefoil knot or the trivial knot. We also describe all unknotting number one positive knots.
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