Graham School News

Why Are You Undermining Yourself With Your Own Writing?

Kelli Christiansen

I think that too many people write in ways that undermine their authority, credibility, and expertise. I believe this to be the case because I frequently see clues in their writing that indicate that they’re hedging, waffling, or questioning their own reasoning. I feel this is not a good way to go about writing in an authoritative manner, especially in an era in which seemingly everyone wishes to be thought of as an influencer.

I think . . .
I believe . . .
I feel . . .

What the <bleeeeeeep>?

This kind of language could be considered the literary equivalent of “I’m sorry, but”—a phrase too many people use in too many situations.

What are you apologizing for? Why are you softening your opinions with qualifiers? Why are you reiterating to the reader what your thoughts and beliefs are? It’s your writing: We already know it’s what you think, believe, and feel. You don’t need to say it again. You don’t need to apologize to your readers for sharing your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings with them.

Whether you’re writing an opinion piece, a white paper, a memo, a book, or anything else that takes into account your conclusions, your experience, your expertise, your findings, and/or your research, you don’t need—and you shouldn’t—qualify your material by hedging your language. Doing so strips you of your authority and tells your readers that you don’t trust your own thoughts. When you do that, you’re essentially telling your readers that they need not heed your words. That the thoughts you’re expressing are somehow less than valid. That they aren’t as worthy of consideration as they ought to be.

Write with authority. Write with the knowledge that you have done your homework, that you have done your research, that you have tested your conclusions, and that you know what you’re talking about. Rid your writing of phrases such as I feel, I believe, I think, It seems to me that, It strikes me that, I might note that, and so on and so forth.

If you don’t feel comfortable writing about your experiences, findings, observations, and the like, then take the time to do what you need to do to support the conclusions you’re writing about. But if you are confident in what you’re saying, then don’t hem and haw: Say what you mean to say. Say it with authority.

How we string our words together tells our readers something about us. We can use our writing to demonstrate our expertise, or our writing can reveal our lack of confidence. We can use our writing to exert our authority, or our writing can demonstrate that we doubt ourselves. What do you want your writing to say about you?


Kelli Christiansen has spent more than two decades in publishing, as a bookseller, editor, literary agent, and writer. She began her career with B. Dalton Bookseller (a division of Barnes & Noble) before becoming a journalist for a chain of suburban newspapers. She then served as an acquisitions editor with Publications International, Ltd./Consumer Guide, where she edited books and magazines. Later, she served as a senior editor with McGraw-Hill and executive editor with ABA Publishing. In 2007, Kelli launched bibliobibuli, working with a variety of authors and publishers to help make publishing dreams come true. Over the years, Kelli has acquired, developed, edited, or ghosted literally hundreds of books, working with such publishers as Amacom, American Library Association/ALA Editions, Berrett-Koehler, Bloomberg Press, Osprey Publishing, Sourcebooks, Wiley, and Workman. A number of her books have been well reviewed, earning recognition from such publications as Barron’s, Booklist, BusinessWeek, Library Journal, The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The Wall Street Journal. A writer herself, Kelli’s work has appeared in such media as Book Business Magazine; Carol Stream Press; Chicago Book Review; Chicago Life; Chicago Literati; Collections & Credit Risk Magazine; Faith, Hope & Fiction; Midwest Book Review; Midwestern Gothic; and San Francisco Book Review.

This article was originally published on September 20, 2019 on bibliobibuli. View the original article ›