Don’t treat your opinion as an option

If you want your argument to be taken seriously, don’t invite your reader to disagree.

This may be obvious. If you argue with a colleague or loved one, and you’re truly committed to your conviction, you wouldn’t finish by saying, “Now disagree with me! Bring up valid points to weaken my arguments! Do it!”

Yet this is what so many people do when they insert a seemingly innocuous phrase into their writing: “I think.”

When you preface your statement by saying “I think” or “In my opinion,” what you’re really saying is, “My way is only one way to look at it, but there are others.”

You’re saying, “Do you think so, too?”

You’re saying, “My resolve is weak; please exploit that weakness. Please don’t hurt me. I’m fragile.”

Ask yourself which statement has more authority to it:

  1. “I think we should have pizza for dinner tonight.”
  2. “In my opinion, we should have pizza for dinner tonight.”
  3. “I believe we should have pizza for dinner tonight.”
  4. “We should have pizza for dinner tonight.”

The last sentence is clearly most likely to get a Gino’s delivery guy at your door in a half hour. Apart from it being the briefer and thus stronger statement, it removes the weakness that subtly taints your strong, declarative sentence with an interrogative connotation.

Of course, this all depends on your goal. If you want to encourage debate and hear other people’s viewpoints, then keep the opinion words, and explicitly ask the other person for their take. This is how societies evolves, how mankind matures, how wisdom and civility flourish.

But if you’re more concerned with your pizza than with a more enlightened populace, lose the “I think” and stop asking people to disagree.

The Syracuse Pen provides writing and editing services for students, professionals and small businesses. Visit our home page for more information about what we can do for you.

One thought on “Don’t treat your opinion as an option

  1. I think…

    No, wait, let me start again.

    Starting sentences with “I think” is a form of defensive writing. “See! I didn’t declare outright that the Yankees are the best team ever. and all other teams suck turds. I said I think this is true.” It’s a way of trying to avoid being held fully accountable for our words. See the excellent link below for more on this.

    It’s the result of people online being ready to interpret everything we say in the worst possible light, looking for every possible way in which we are wrong.

Leave a Reply