In writing, confidence is power. This may not come naturally if you feel out of your depth or intimidated by your audience. But finding the right tone to convey authority and self-assurance is worth your effort.
By making adjustments to achieve a confident tone, you can put the people you’re writing to at ease: This writer exudes expertise and trustworthiness; I want to work with them.In other words, your ability to write confidently can help land you a job interview or raise. Outside work, it can persuade the owner of the perfect apartment you saw online that you’re the right tenant to move in. Here are some pointers and examples to help you achieve that confident tone.
Hedging language suggests uncertainty, like “I think it’s likely possible that the author of this sentence was feeling less than overly confident.” Deleting all that unnecessary padding improves the sentence drastically, like so: “The author was feeling confident.” Better, no?
Strike hedging language every chance you get. Another example: “I’m fairly certain this will be ready tomorrow” is somewhat more confident than starting with “I think this will be…” But if you can surmount your deadline doubts altogether, it’s stronger yet to say “This will be ready tomorrow.”
Frequent offenders to watch out for include:
- Most likely
- I think
Similarly, get rid of unneeded “if” clauses, as in “If it makes sense, I’d also be happy to discuss this on the phone.” Cut the first four words of that sentence.
Workers who lack confidence among their colleagues give themselves away with phrases like “Sorry if you’ve already thought of this” or “I don’t mean to speak out of turn, but…”
We get it. Maybe you’re new on the job and want to avoid seeming brusque or conceited, but the apologetic tone is an unwarranted overcorrection—sorry, but we’re not sorry.
You’ll project more confidence if you nix this habit and champion your ideas with a balance of aplomb and humility.
Say you’re applying to adopt a floppy-eared mutt named Sunshine from a rescue group that’s asking about your experience with dogs. You may feel underqualified if you don’t already own two dogs, but why highlight those insecurities? Some examples:
Needs work: We had a dog growing up, although admittedly I wasn’t the main person who took care of it. In college, I volunteered at a shelter, but mostly with cats. Still, I’d love to take Sunshine home.
Much better: My experience growing up with a family dog and volunteering with shelter animals has prepared me to give Sunshine a caring and attentive home.
Note that the more confident version is also shorter, which brings us to:
A sign of mastery over complex subjects is the ability to explain them conversationally. Cut awkward jargon and streamline any prose that isn’t necessary or interesting. Doing so will spare your readers' confusion and demonstrate confidence in your own expertise.
Wonky: The utility of the Drake equation is debated because estimates of the number of civilizations in our galaxy all hinge on guesswork.
Wait, what? First, let’s get rid of the passive voice, which betrays a lack of confidence, and answer this question: It’s debated by whom? Second, let’s show some confidence in our command of the subject with a more conversational rewrite:
Confident and easygoing: Scientists disagree on the Drake equation’s use for weighing our chances of communicating with aliens.
There’s confidence, and then there’s arrogance. While you want to show you believe in your abilities, writers who oversell themselves are no joy to read. For instance:
Confident: I’ll send you revisions tomorrow.
Arrogant: I could revise this script with my eyes closed in no time flat.
Which of the above two writers would you rather get revisions from—or work with at all? A few more examples:
Confident: Strictly defined, dinosaurs are terrestrial, so ancient swimming reptiles like mosasaurs don’t technically qualify.
Confident, simplified: Dinosaurs are terrestrial, so swimming reptiles don’t qualify.
Arrogant: What kind of taxonomic nimrod mistakes a mosasaur for a dinosaur?