On Writing

the pilot p-500, originally uploaded by Mr. Wright.“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain

In Sort of, Just, and Donald Trump, Seth Godin notes:

I noticed a little while ago that I was using the word “just” and the phrase “sort of” in my writing. All the time, in fact. In my last book, a search and replace removed more than 80 unnecessary ‘justs’.

Just say it.

I learned early on in my career as an analyst that qualifiers are signposts to weaknesses in the quality of a product. (In a similar vein, intensifiers should be used with care. “Very” is a waste of four letters.) Later, as an editor for a stable of some 30-odd analysts, it was short work to circle such qualifiers with my red pen and send a disgruntled junior officer back to the drawing board.

The greater the level of exposure, the more tempting it is to use qualifiers. Gadding about on a blog, I can make all kinds of assertions and the world will little care. ** When writing an article for the head of a military service, there are many hands on the product and the risks of being wrong are greater — hence, the temptation to hedge with qualifiers grows. The decision maker who must read the intelligence community’s drivel is not helped by lengthy articles filled with “may” and “possibly.” Analysts must form a judgment and stand by it.

Farm animals, by the way, never use qualifiers. They rely strictly on imperatives: “Feed me NOW!” I appreciate that.

**Except for bears running downhill. Lately, I get at least one visitor a day looking for information about this.



  1. I’ve REALLY been trying VERY hard to get rid of those too 😉 My husband also gave me a lesson on active voice that I’m slowly but surely getting the hang of. The learning never stops which makes it all the more fun.

  2. We won’t even go into my pet peeves with college freshman writing. Let me just say that if I never see the phrases “I think”, “I feel” or “I believe” in a freshman essay again it will be too soon. As I frequently tell them — if you can’t stand by your own opinions and assertions — then I simply don’t care!

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