Mediocre writing teems with timidity and hesitation. That’s why it’s so boring. Weasel words and loopholes abound, because the authors are so afraid of making a mistake and looking bad. As a result, the author comes across as lacking in confidence and unsure of their ideas.
There are three ways to sound confident in your writing. Three simple tricks you can do right now to make your words take on a more forceful tone, even if you don’t feel it yourself. With these three methods, you can fake it until you make it. And if you do them, making it will be easy.
1. Stop telling us your opinion
For most of us, everything we write is our opinion. It’s based on our own experiences, our own ideas, our own interpretation of events and information. So stop using phrases like “I think,” “In my opinion,” or “I believe.” We already know this is what you think, opine, and believe.
It took me several tries to write the second paragraph of this piece to convey strength and confident. To tell you the truth, there are more than three ways of sounding confident, but I wasn’t about to start that with “In my opinion” or “I believe.” You already know it’s my opinion. I wanted to sound confident and to make you believe, even for a second, that I knew the secret three methods.
(I do know them, I’m just not going to tell you what they really are.)
Unless you’re writing a scientific article, most everything that’s being published these days is opinion. Even the news, which was once considered to be unassailable, is now seen as tainted by the publishers’ opinions, or the writer’s personal filters. Skip the opinion phrases; blow them up completely. Your writing will be stronger and seen as more committed and honest.
2. Remove “I” from Twitter
This advice is for Twitter, but you’d be surprised what it can do for your overall confidence. Just stop saying “I” before your tweets: “
I think Chocolate chip cookie dough rules,” “ I Just remembered I hated this movie,” “ I Ran five miles yesterday. I Can’t move my legs now.”
Do it for two reasons: 1) It saves two characters in an already-limited space. 2) It sounds more direct and dramatic. Forceful even. Almost like you don’t have time to say “I,” because you’re too busy doing other great things.
It takes a little practice, but as you get better at it, you’ll notice your new confidence shining through in your other writing as well.
3. Avoid ‘If’ Statements
Sometimes they’re necessary, but many times they sound waffle-y, like you’re trying to cover all your bases. However, if you work in a law firm, or if you work as a scientists, or if you’re an accountant, where precision and accuracy are crucial, then those ‘if’ statements may be important.
I encountered this many times when I worked in my state’s health department. Many of the epidemiologists (public health scientists who monitor epidemic diseases) liked using “if” statements, because they knew the importance of being accurate. However, when I was managing media interviews for them, I couldn’t have them talk like normal epidemiologists.
I worked with several of them on speaking to the media versus speaking to colleagues. The best ones got it, and became my go-to subject matter experts for most interviews. They knew how to shorten up their language, including removing “if” statements, or at least not accounting for every possibility that could ever occur during a crisis, because they only had a few seconds to capture the viewers’ attention and get to the crux of the information.
Life is filled with “if” statements. They’re inescapable. But unless it’s absolutely critical for you to include all possibilities an “if” statement, or other scientific/legal weasel words, will entail, you may be able to avoid them. Or at least not list every possible variable. It bogs down the writing and people will give up by the third paragraph.
In my opinion, many, if not most, Writers fear being wrong, fear being called out for saying the wrong things. They rely on weasel words and loopholes as a crutch, so when they are called out, they can say “well, I said it was my opinion” or “I said most, so I guess this time is the exception.”
Take a stand. Be willing to be wrong. If you make an error, make it a great one. No one is going to revoke your writer’s license. Your “wanted” poster won’t be put up in the post office.
Instead, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Research your facts, but when someone shows you’re wrong — because it happens to all of us — admit your mistake, apologize, and correct your work as needed. In a blog, you can even give a shout out to the person who found the error to show you’re more interested in being open to discussion than you are about being right.
Drop the weasel words and the loopholes and you will soon begin to feel confident in your ideas, and won’t have to couch them in qualifiers as a way to avoid making a mistake.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, a newspaper humor columnist, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, and The Owned Media Doctrine.