Say what you mean.
It’s easy advice to give, but not so easy to follow. So often, we want to equivocate and hedge.
Maybe we just feel more comfortable couching our assertions in phrases like “it might be said” or “it is believed.” Or we would rather remain vague by using “many” or “very” instead of using numbers that someone might challenge.
But those words weaken your writing. They bury your argument and make it hard for people to follow your line of reasoning. They fail to give readers real information. That’s a problem when you are trying to persuade someone to take an important action.
If you have the facts on your side, don’t be shy about stating them. Don’t make them look debatable by introducing them with “I believe…” That is especially true when you are dealing with scientific fact. We live in a contentious time where people are more than happy to quarrel about even the most self-evident of truths. But just because we live in a “post-fact era,” it doesn’t mean facts have become any less real.
Communications that present facts without apology has become even more important at a time when data gets confused with faith. The latter is something of your choosing, but facts stand up on their own, whether or not others believe them.
So if you have sales data, medical advice or other information that you need to share, state it clearly and without unnecessary preamble and without hyperbole. That is especially true if you want to convince others to take steps — maybe to reduce their carbon footprint, support a form of gun control, vaccinate their children.
Glaciers, for instance, are indeed melting at a startling rate. “When President Taft created Glacier National Park in 1910, it was home to an estimated 150 glaciers. Since then the number has decreased to fewer than 30, and most of those remaining have shrunk in area by two-thirds. [One scientist] predicts that within 30 years most if not all of the park’s namesake glaciers will disappear,” Daniel Glick recently wrote in an article published by the National Geographic.
And humans have been using vaccines since before 1796, when the first English physician Edward Jenner published the first findings on the success of early small pox vaccinations.
Doctors started using modern vaccines — BCG, diphtheria, tetanus, and poliomyelitis — in the 1950s. And the single research paper in the 1970s that linked vaccinations with autism has been debunked. Those are facts, whether or not someone chooses to rebut them.
Clear writing that presents facts in an easy to understand manner, without hype, stands out from much of what passes as information today. In an era where opinions are shouted and beliefs are mixed up with facts, where news reporting is often indistinguishable from opinion, your voice can command attention with calm, factual assertions.
So review your emails, reports and other writings for phrases that soften your argument and make you look unsure. Delete “I believe” and “I think.” Remove “it could be considered.” Substitute “many” and “very” (such as in “very hard”) with numbers and other solid information as often as you can.
You will be more persuasive as a result.
— BARBARA LeBLANC