Writing Confidently: I think my thesis makes sense, maybe, perhaps?

By Bridget Dowd

You’ve finished your paper! You have a solid thesis statement, you’ve backed up all your claims, and you’ve incorporated all your sources properly. However, your paper is peppered with words like “maybe,” and “perhaps,” and “seems.” No matter how original your ideas and brilliant your examples, if you don’t make your point confidently and clearly, your paper (or cover letter, or application, or even Facebook status!) is going to fall flat.

One way to ensure that your confidence comes through in your writing is to state important points in active voice.

For example, instead of saying, “Hamlet is made mad by the traumatic events he undergoes.”

Say something like this: “By illustrating the tragedy Hamlet experiences alongside his descent into madness, Shakespeare shows that Hamlet’s madness is, in fact, genuine.”

In the second example, you more explicitly engage with the text, demonstrating your capability in analyzing it and your comfort in writing about it. Furthermore, your point is made more immediately clear to the reader.

Another way many writers reveal their discomfort in writing is through syntactical complexity. If your readers can’t understand the grammar of your sentence, you can bet they won’t understand the brilliant idea hidden within that sentence! So, if you were writing about Jane Austen’s evaluation of marriage, don’t write:

“The character of Mrs. Bennet, who was created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice, suggests instability in the English economy through her objectification of her five daughters and her attempts to essentially sell them to the highest bidder.”

This sentence has several issues. First of all, the second clause interrupts the flow of the thesis statement, which ought to be delivered clearly. Additionally, words such as “objectification” are called nominalizations; nouns like this (often ending in “ion”) can usually be turned into active verbs. Mrs. Bennet does not participate in objectification; she objectifies. Lastly, the final part of the sentence reveals the writer’s evasion—words like “essentially” should be used sparingly, because they often serve as filler instead of adding substance to prose.

Instead, try something like:

“In Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses Mrs. Bennet’s treatment of her daughters to draw a parallel between the marriage market and eighteenth-century economic instability.”

This version of the thesis leaves your readers in no doubt as to the subject of the paper they are about to enjoy.

Confident writing is not just important in academic writing. When penning applications or cover letters, be sure to use language expressive of your confidence in your own abilities. Oftentimes, you should check your verb choices. For example, would you want to hire somebody who “would be a good fit for the job?” No! Let your reader know, “I am a good fit for your company.” Through this simple grammatical change, you’ve made yourself into a more confident, comfortable candidate for the job.

If you overuse passive language, your readers will see that even you aren’t sure of your point (or that you’re trying your hardest to reach that elusive word count)!