Thou Shalt Not Pontificate

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The subtle differences between the two statements below can bring people closer to your writing, or push them away in an instant.

“You need to forgive your enemy.”

“We need to forgive our enemies.”

The first example is a classic case of pontificating: talking down to the reader, insisting that the reader do something, remaining distant, or condemning other believers.

However, by using “we” in place of “you” in the second example, the statement unites the reader and the writer. “We need to forgive our enemies” acknowledges the writer’s own struggles, and suddenly the statement becomes something to which the reader can relate.

When keeping your tone in mind, avoid using “must,” “need to,” and “should” in articles. Instead, try to rephrase the sentence to show the benefits of the action. To make our example sentence even more appealing to the reader, we could rephrase it as “If we are willing to forgive, that offense against us loses its power over us.”

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With a just few edits, a condemning sentence suddenly becomes a quote worth remembering, and even sharing.


**Adapted from “Writing Effective Magazine Articles” unit 11.**

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