Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Perhaps I should Ditch the Qualifiers

I feel that you should all do this.  Perhaps you might, in certain circumstances, maybe agree with me.  On the other hand, I think that sometimes - which is not to say, every time - there may possibly be a chance that you might do something else.  


Qualifiers.  They're unnecessary frills and furbelows clogging up our writing.* Just get on with it. Say it.  Be confident.  Don't hedge your bets with qualifiers.  We all do it - I know I'm a culprit, but I edit the tentative 'I think' out of the sentence before I show it to anyone.  (And sometimes the I know, but decided to leave that one in.)

This post was inspired by coming across the following in a student covering letter: I feel I have been a high achiever.  I feel???  Doesn't that imply that, while the writer feels they've been a high achiever, the actual high achievements they should have received have eluded them.  I have been a high achiever, implies straight As - which was the situation in this particular case.  

"It was a very large horse."  Was it really?  Wasn't it just a large horse? Or perhaps a Shire horse,  or bigger than a house, or ginormous, or vast or seventeen hands at the shoulder or anything apart from very large.  

I think qualifiers weaken your prose. Actually, it's not just me who thinks that, and I feel I can prove it by writing: Qualifiers weaken your prose.  I can prove it. 

Of course, sometimes you want to soften what you say so you don't appear a deranged dictator, which is when qualifiers come in handy. I think. But for the most part, don't be tentative, use strong nouns and verbs so the qualifiers are redundant.  Have courage and make statements. 

*I originally wrote 'They're like unnecessary frills...'


Liz Fielding said...

Your first sentence sounded like something Sir Humphrey would have said in "Yes, Minister" and we all know his skill was in clouding the issue with words. :)

Anonymous said...

for the most part i'm wholeheartedly in agreement with these sentiments - though whilst i do think that, by and large, there's a strong case to be made for greater succinctness and clarity, there's also something about the sleep-inducing qualities of a long, ponderous sentence that's genuinely, and gently, appealing (in particular, i find, late at night... :-)

womagwriter said...

LOL! Qualifiers can make your writing almost unusual and quite unique, rather than being a bit similar to everything else out there... :-D

Sarah Duncan said...

Love the Sir Humphrey reference, it's exactly what civil servants traditionally do. Hence the campaign for Plain English.

I remember reading a review of a book that basically said it was ideal bedtime reading, more effective than sleeping tablets.

I read an essay today that started many sentences with something along the lines of 'On the other hand, it can also be argued that..." Rather unique, I thought.