Strong, powerful, confident words communicate and convince. Lame, wimpy writing kicks the legs out from under your message, and waters it down.
The most common kind of wimpy writing are “qualifiers.” If you remember what your 7th grade English teacher told you, qualifiers are adjectives and adverbs that limit (“qualify”) your message — thus modifying it — and too often, undercutting it. You’ll find lots of them in your own writing — words like “sort of” and “I guess” and “I think.”
Obviously , there are places where certain adjectives and adverbs are appropriate. Take this sentence: “The dimpled cloud drifted lazily across the blue sky.” In that example, “dimpled” and “blue” are adjectives, and “lazily” is an adverb. You can see how these words describe (and hopefully enhance) the meaning. Unfortunately, most of us overuse adjectives and adverbs, but that’s a topic for another day.
But too often we use qualifiers as a cop-out, as a way of softening or watering down a statement. Note the wimpy qualifiers in italics: “It’s a piece of junk, in my humble opinion.” “She’s sort of a monster if you ask me.” Maybe it’s a little over the top.”
Whether you’re trying to convey a marketing message or a marriage proposal, state whatever you’re trying to say strongly and clearly. Don’t lie or mislead, of course, but don’t water down your message with wishy-washy qualifiers.
I mean, how would you respond if someone wrote,
“I sort of love you. Will you perhaps marry me? I think I could make you fairly happy.”
Doesn’t exactly sweep you off your feet, does it? Now strip out those wimpy qualifiers and see how much stronger and more confidently it reads:
sort oflove you. Will you perhapsmarry me? I thinkKNOW I could make you fairlyhappy.”
Don’t feel bad if you find your own writing peppered with wimpy and unnecessary modifiers. That’s what revising and editing is about. Even professional writers and speakers fall into the habit, as Seth Godin admitted today:
“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’.
Justsay it. Don’t hide behind waffling terms that don’t mean anything.”