“What is crucial for you as the writer is to express your opinion firmly,” writes William Zinsser in “On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” To emphasize the point, Bill repeats the point at the end of the paragraph, ending with, “Take your stand with conviction.”
This advice is not for all writers—Bill particularly wants editorial writers to write with a clear point of view.
When Bill was an editorial writer for the New York Herald Tribune, he attended a daily editorial meeting to “discuss what editorials … to write for the next day and what position …[to] take.” Bill recollects,
“Frequently [they] weren’t quite sure, especially the writer who was an expert on Latin America.
“What about that coup in Uruguay?” the editor would ask. “It could represent progress for the economy,” the writer would reply, “or then again it might destabilize the whole political situation. I suppose I could mention the possible benefits and then—”
The editor would admonish such uncertainty with a curt “let’s not go peeing down both legs.”
Bill approves of taking a side. He likes what the editor is saying if not the language. He calls it the best advice he has received on writing columns. I don’t. Certainty should only come from one source: conviction born from thoughtful consideration of facts and arguments. Don’t feign certainty. Don’t discuss concerns in a perfunctory manner. And don’t discuss concerns at the end.
Surprisingly, Bill agrees with the last bit about not discussing concerns in a perfunctory manner at the end. But for a different reason. He thinks that “last-minute evasions and escapes [cancel strength].”
Don’t be a mug. If there are serious concerns, don’t wait until the end to note them. Note them as they come up.