May 11

Sound more confident in your writing

When we sit down to write, most of us are plagued by thoughts of uncertainty.

Am I saying this the right way?

Is my argument strong enough? True? Useful?

Will my peers accept my writing?

These subversive thoughts swirl around in our minds while we're trying to figure out how to word sentences. Our insecurities manifest themselves in wordiness.

We opt for a more verbose sentence, like the following: “The authors propose that children who have a low socioeconomic background may be at a higher risk for developing poor paternal attachments, which may lead to the tendency toward poor academic performance.” (I made up this causal relationship and the sentence.)

But look at those insecure words, “propose,” “may be,” “may lead,” and “tendency toward,” all stuffed into a short, 31-word sentence.

Such “hedging words” make us feel better as we write.

The Marriam-Webster dictionary defines hedging as, “a calculatedly noncommittal or evasive statement.”

Ouch. Think about that. Are you trying to evade your own argument? Perhaps we distance ourselves from our argument a bit so that we don't sound overconfident, even cocky. Or perhaps do we hedge against the possibility that our argument is wrong. That might be the scarier thought.

A vital part of the editing process is removing those hedging words, which will make you sound more confident and your paper easier to read.

Think of how much easier it is to read this sentence, instead: “We propose that children who have a low socioeconomic background are more likely to develop poor parental attachments and, thus, poor academic performance.”

Notice that I'm not entirely opposed to a little hedging.

In research, you do have to allow for the fact that you're presenting, essentially, a working theory. So, I left in “propose” and “are more likely.” That's enough of an admission that the causal relationship may not be entirely accurate. The rest of the sentence can be free of hedging words.

Go back to your own writing and pull out some of these typical hedging words and phrases:

tend to, tendency toward

may be, might be, can be

some say, might say, could say

And add in some confidence, instead! The reader won't buy into your argument, if your writing says that you're hedging your bets against your own research.


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