Monday, 21 April 2014

Writing Without Authority

Does your writing have the authority to proceed and engage with the reader? I was marking an assignment over the weekend that tackled an interesting subject matter, however the article was vague. The writer drew upon their own opinion, which is fine for the right slot in some publications, but there was little credibility to the point they were making. They made statements but failed to back up their points with evidence. When this happens our writing lacks authority.

Avoid writing general and vague statements:

Some say that more people take drugs now than in the 1970s.

This statements raises several questions:

- Who ‘says’ this? A respected drug rehabilitation charity, or old Bert two doors down the road?
- More people? How many more? One? Or twenty million? The word ‘more’ doesn’t help the reader put it into context.
- ‘Take drugs’? Which drugs? Heroin? Caffeine? Paracetamol? Anti-histamines? Alcohol? Identify the drug and readers will determine how relevant the drug is to them, or the potential danger of this drug.

Once you clarify and quantify your statement your writing will then take on more authority.

RDD, the Reduce Drug Dependancy charity, has identified through a recent study that one million 25-to-35 year olds take ecstasy - an increase of 48% on the figure obtained through a similar study they carried out in the 1970s.

This statement carries a lot more authority than the first. We’ve qualified where our information has come from and quantified what the difference is. The reader now has a better understanding of the context of this statement.

So analyse your writing for vague references like: some, more, a growing, reputedly, it is said that, around, roughly.

And look for places where you can insert numbers. Quantify your statements. Rather than say Some writers procrastinate every day, be more specific: 99% of writers procrastinate for an hour every day.

Your reader will thank you for it, and accept that you are writing with authority.

Good luck.


  1. That goes for fiction too (says short story writer, Patsy Collins in Mr Whaley's latest blog post).

    A character who 'drinks some wine' doesn't give us as much of a picture as a character who has a few sips of champagne on their birthday, or one who has two bottles with their cornflakes every morning. We need to show the reader we know what this person is really like.

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