Weak Writing with Weasel Words

Ah, a little alliteration in the title this morning!

Okay, you’re probably wondering what weasel words are, right?

What are weasel words?

Well, whether you are actively aware of this or not, weasel words are a way of slipping personal opinion into what you are writing, and to do it in such a way that it sounds credible, but isn’t exactly verifiable.

For example, if I personally think that driving too fast is not a good idea and I write a piece about it like this:

“Many drivers exceed the posted speed limit…”

Can you define ‘many’? How many is many? See, I can make the statement and you really cannot refute my statement because, depending on how you view it, it might be true or it might not, and it’s all going to depend on what ‘many’ means, to you. Without any facts or stats to back that up, ‘many’ can mean just about anything I want it to.

Also, the inverse of that statement can also be true.

“Many drivers stay below the posted speed limit….”

If ‘many’ cannot be quantified, as you can see, both statements can invariably be true, without the other statement being untrue.

Now, I suppose if you’re writing an opinion piece, some weasel words are to be expected, but wouldn’t your opinion piece – and most definitely your factual/informational content – be stronger and make a better point if it had real information?

For example, “A survey by (name who did the survey) says that 90% of all drivers on the road exceed the posted limit…”

Okay, that’s an example only – have no idea if there’s even a real stat for that particular example, but that’s not the point.

The point is – which is stronger:

“Many do this….”

or

“90% do this…”

Clearly, the second one is stronger.

Now, why are they called weasel words? Because this is a trick that is usually used by a writer or speaker when they are wanting to push their opinion in their writing or speaking, but they do not have the information or sometimes even the truth on their side and they want to ‘weasel’ out of giving cold, hard information and facts. (again, usually because the facts do not support their position).

Now, what are some other weasel words?

“Some…”
“Most….”
“Many…”
“A lot…”
“More and more…”
“Critics say….”

If you’ve ever tried to edit or use Wikipedia, you probably know, they are very much against weasel words. Why? Because, strange as it may seem to think of them as a wholly reliable source, Wikipedia is trying to be an online ‘living’ encyclopedia, and weasel words are not quantifiable.

If you are writing fact/informational based articles or content, avoid weasel words completely, and be sure to back up your assertions about stats or facts with a reliable source. If you are writing opinion pieces, and you feel you must use weasels words, be prepared to have someone come along and slam your opinion as groundless or not based on facts.

While it’s true that one can find a stat to support just about any opinion one might have, a fact or stat is STILL preferable to a weasel word that is lazy and possibly indicative of intentional desire to sway opinion without providing any proof of that viewpoint.

While reading content on the internet, keep your eye open for the use of weasel words, and you might find yourself a bit less gullible when reading things on the internet!

But most importantly, review your own writing and try to remove weasel words wherever you can or back them up with solid, useful, quantifiable information.

Keep writing!

Love and stuff,
Michy