Give Your Writing a Confidence Boost

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—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

July 22, 2020 

Give Your Writing a Confidence Boost

“Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.”

—George Herbert

Confidence is contagious, but so is doubt. When you convey uncertainty, your ideas lose credibility. When you convey confidence, you inspire belief.  

You can ensure your next business correspondence gets results by writing with a clear, confident voice. 

What does confident writing sound like?

A confident writing voice sounds composed, well-researched, and self-assured.

Doubtful: New theater seating fastened to the floor could be useful. If you’re not too busy, you might look at the catalogs of four companies that sell theater seating. Would it be possible for me to contact any of these companies for an estimate?

Confident: I recommend new theater seating, fastened to the floor. I have checked with four companies that offer theater seating and have attached their catalogs for your consideration. Please let me know if I can contact any of the companies for an estimate.

The doubtful voice wavers with uncertainty. The confident voice is steady with conviction.

How can I write with confidence?

Follow these tips to maintain a confident writing voice.

1. Define your subject and purpose before you begin writing.

To write with confidence, you need a clear sense of what you are writing about and why. A deep understanding of your subject will help you write well about it, and a clear purpose will let readers know what to do with your message.

2. Avoid an apologetic tone.

Believe in what you have to say. Unless you are writing specifically to apologize, there’s no need to qualify your statements with apologetic expressions: sorry to bother you or I know you are busy, but. Though you may perceive them as courtesies, these hedges make your writing sound tentative.

3. Avoid unnecessary qualifiers.

Unneeded apologies are not the only qualifying expressions that make your ideas sound tenuous. A simple but powerful way to convey more confidence is to strike hesitant expressions from your writing.

  • I’m just checking in (why just?)
  • I was wondering if
  • It’s not a big deal, but
  • In my opinion
  • I feel like maybe
  • Does that make sense?
  • You might try 

Note: Qualifying expressions are not always bad. Terms such as maybe, probably, and might are useful when you intentionally want to express uncertainty or soften an idea. Likewise, using an occasional qualifying expression like one of those listed above is okay when you are writing with a conversational tone. However, don't overuse qualifiers, or your ideas will lose urgency.

4. Write active sentences.

Writing sentences in the active voice helps you take direct ownership of your ideas, while a passive voice diverts attention from the subject. 

Passive: Monthly reports can be found by you on our website on the first of each month.
Active: On the first of each month, you will find monthly reports on our website.

5. Be specific.

Specific details provide clarity and show readers exactly where you stand on the subject. Replace general statements or platitudes with specific nouns, verbs, and information.

General: We need to change the warehouse because the current setup is awful.
Specific: We should reorganize the warehouse to remove stock that has not sold in years and to shift best-selling merchandise to the most accessible bays.

6. Express main ideas as statements, not questions.

Statements leave no doubt about requests for action. Questions open the possibility of alternatives. If you are certain about an idea, express it as a statement or a command. (Command sentences have an implied subject: you.)

Question: What if we tried preparing an agenda for the meeting?
Statement: We should prepare an agenda for the meeting.
Command: Please prepare an agenda for the meeting.

As you incorporate these tips into your writing, remember that confident writing is clear and straightforward, not arrogant. Let your ideas speak for themselves.

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Play the Editor!

The voice in the following email sounds doubtful and hesitant. Rewrite the email with a confident (but not arrogant) writing voice. Scroll down to see one possible revision.

Hi Teresa,

Forgive me for bothering you, but the head of the Graphics Design Department at Northwestern College has asked if we might possibly be interested in perhaps offering internship opportunities to strong candidates from the university’s program.

I am of the opinion that many benefits are provided to the company through an internship program. 

  • It would be great to have young people around. 
  • It would help us on college campuses.
  • More work would get done. 

If you find time in your busy schedule, you might consider reviewing Northwestern’s policies for internships as well as my formal proposal for establishing an internship position in our office. Both documents are attached.

I just want you to know I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about my proposal.

Could you possibly let me know your decision by January 15?

Sincerely,
Dan

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Get More Support

Explore the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and past eTips for more ways to hone your professional writing voice.

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Editor’s Recommendation

Hi Teresa,

The head of the Graphics Design Department at Northwestern College asked if we are interested in offering internships to strong candidates from the university.

Starting an internship program would benefit the company for a number of reasons. 

  • It would create a pool of potential future employees.
  • It would boost our visibility on college campuses. 
  • It would increase our productivity.

To help you learn more about the possibilities of internships, I've attached Northwestern’s internship policies as well as my formal proposal for establishing internship positions in our office. 

I’m happy to answer any questions you have about my proposal.

Please let me know your decision by January 15.

Sincerely,
Dan