Excising Expletives- Article 2: No One Cares What You Think

The title is a little harsh. Of course people somewhat care about what you think, or they wouldn’t be reading what you wrote. But many writers don’t realize you don’t have to tell them it’s what you think.

You should almost never write, “I believe” or “I think” or “In my opinion.” If you are writing it, you think it. You don’t have to say you’re thinking it.

I know. You’re afraid of claiming that what you think is the truth. You don’t want to sound too forward or arrogant. You think it’s more polite.

You’re wrong. Writing is, in part, an act of courage and arrogance. You have the gall to record your thoughts. It’s a selfie. And the more you write, the more selfies you are taking. So get over that.

I said “you should almost never write,” because, as always, there are a few exceptions. Feel free to write “I believe” or “I think” or “in my opinion” if:

  1. You want to be condescending to your reader. Here’s a writer secret: many people think starting out with “I believe” is  polite, but it’s actually patronizing. First of all, it’s obvious this is what you believe, or you wouldn’t be writing it. Secondly, you are pushing your beliefs with the facade you consider the reader has his or her own belief.  But reader and writer both know it doesn’t work like that. Writing is always a one way street, not a give and take. (And I am including passing notes and electronic communication.) So if you want to put the reader in his place, by all means use the phrases. You could even begin with, “Poor, poor reader…”
  2. You don’t want your reader to listen to what you have to say. When a reader reads “I believe” or “I think” they automatically have a pass to not listen or completely doubt what the writer is saying. So, if your ideas or thoughts or beliefs aren’t that important, cover them up with the arbitrary statements.
  3. You want your reader to read those words instead of other words. The more words you write, the more words the reader will overlook. Readers are lazy. Especially web readers. They ignore words. Usually they pay attention to the first few, so if you have those words up front they may overlook whatever it is you are actually saying.
  4. You want to sound like R. Kelly or Keith Green or some other “inspirational” writer/speaker. Maybe you are using repetitions of “I believe” as rhetorical strategy. Maybe what you’re writing is a manifesto of some sort. Maybe you want your piece to sound cheesy and weightless. Maybe you believe you can fly.
  5. You don’t want to be held accountable for what you are about to say. Hey, we aren’t 100% sure all the time. You might as well put “I believe” in there so if it’s ever held against you, you can show you suspected it might not be true. This is especially effective if you have no research or reasoning to back it up. It’s the support that shows you have a valid reason for believing the way your do. So if your support is weak, you may as well match it with weak language like “I believe.”
  6. You want to display your writing, backed by construction paper, and post it to your mother’s refrigerator. I recommend either black construction paper to set it off, or blue since it’s your favorite color. “I believe” is a sentence structure we are taught in elementary school. If you haven’t outgrown that stage of development, and you still want to write the same level that made your mother proud so long ago, use “I believe” lavishly. And go ahead and write a big red “A” on the top for added effect.

(I’m ashamed of my sarcasm. But also proud. I’m going to leave it.)

Sometimes I do a bit of research to see what other bloggers and authors and authorities say about whatever it is I am writing. So I Googled “why ‘I believe’ is bad writing.” While this shouldn’t be the only criteria I search for, I am so disappointed with the results I am not sure I want to continue.

The writers discussing bad writing are using the phrase, “I believe.” As in, “I believe adverbs are…” And one writer who was disparaging to the phrase replaced it with “I think” to sound more confident in a cover letter for a rèsumé! He was so close. Yet so far.

If you’re wondering what you can use in the place of “I believe” or “I think” or “In my opinion,” you aren’t getting it. These phrases are arbitrary, expletives, extra words that should be cut out. Basically, if you can take it out and it still makes sense, you should.

So if you want to write in a manner that is respectful to the reader, strongly supports your beliefs, focuses on the important words, original, confident, and mature, don’t say those things at all.


What do you believe? Is “I believe” etc. weak writing?

Just kidding. I don’t care what you believe.

Lol. No really, I do. But this IS my blog. And I am right. And if I’m not right, I am ok with saying I was wrong, but now I am right. Because I want to be right. Right?

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