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Stop Writing "Personally" And "In My Opinion"

Phrases such as "personally" and "in my opinion" are common, even in formal writing, but they usually do not add any meaning. In this post—the first in a series of quick tips regarding English usage—I explain why you should ignore these phrases and instead express opinions with strong adjectives and verbs. If you do, readers will know when you are expressing an opinion, without you having to explicitly say so. This lets you write more concisely and effectively.

Write This, Not That: Use Strong Words, Not "Personally" or "In My Opinion"

...Not That

Many writers—even very skilled ones—often use phrases such as "In my opinion" and "Personally" to indicate when a sentence is expressing an opinion. Although they do signal opinions, these phrases typically do not add any meaning, so they should usually be avoided. Consider the following examples:

In my opinion, climate change is the greatest threat to human civilization. Personally, I prefer oranges to grapes.

In these examples—as in most cases in which these phrases are used—"in my opinion" and "personally" can be removed without changing the sentence's meaning at all. Thus, they should be avoided; this allows the writing to be more concise and thus more effective:

Climate change is the greatest threat to human civilization. I prefer oranges to grapes.

Even now, these sentences are clearly opinions. We'll talk more about why that is below. First, let's consider an example statement that you want to change to emphasize that it is an opinion:

Shampooing your hair more than once per day is to be avoided.

On its own, this conclusion could be fact-based (if there is data or other evidence to support it) or opinion-based (if not). Note that, if you want to express that a conclusion is factually supported, you need to include the evidence in close proximity (either in the sentence itself or nearby). In this case, we are assuming that it is just the author's opinion.


You might be tempted to add "In my opinion" to the start of the statement. However, that is not necessary. Let's talk about a better solution.


Write This...

The key to effective persuasive writing is to signal opinions using strong words (usually verbs, adjectives, or adverbs) that are integrated into the sentence. This allows you to leave off needless phrases such as "personally" and "in my opinion." Let's return to our first two examples, this time with the strong words underlined:

Climate change is the greatest threat to human civilization. I prefer oranges to grapes.

In the first example, "greatest" clearly indicates an opinion because it expresses a value. (It is "qualitative," to use a somewhat technical term.) Similar words include "better," "worst," "improved," and "wise." If your verb is neutral, then value-laden words are great ways to signal your opinion. Note that you should avoid any word that relates to a measurable amount (a "quantitative" word), as that will signal a fact-based statement. Instead, be sure to use an adjective that can't be directly measured.


In the second example, the verb "prefer" indicates the opinion quite clearly. Other verbs that do this include "conclude," "determine," "surmise," and "infer." Perhaps the clearest opinion verb is "should"; don't be afraid to use it when appropriate. Note that "think" and "believe" technically indicate opinions well, but these words are weak because they are overused and often imprecise. I'd thus recommend avoiding them and opting for a more specific verb instead.


Now, let's return to the third example. Let's include a strong word to make it clearly an opinion. There are many ways to do this, but here are two (strong words underlined):

Shampooing your hair more than once per day should be avoided. Shampooing your hair more than once per day is inadvisable.

Though academic writing is often evidence-based, opinions have their place, too, so don't be afraid to use them where appropriate. Obviously, if you are writing a persuasive piece, you'll need strong verbs and adjectives throughout. However, even in a largely descriptive paper or article, you will often need such opinion words in certain places—notably, when drawing conclusions, evaluating the validity of a study, or making a (nonstatistical) prediction.


Remember to stay away from "personally" and "in my opinion," though.


Do you have any questions about opinion phrases? Do you have a pet peeve phrase that you'd like to suggest for a future post in this series? Drop me a line in the comments or via email at info@elevationediting.com. And as always, if you'd like someone to take care of these issue for you, I'd be glad to do so—just submit your document at ElevationEditing.com.

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