Be Convincing by Using Moderation, Modesty, and Evidence

Telling people you're great will have the opposite effect. People like moderation and evidence. If you apply those traits to what you write, you will win people over.

"Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise."
(Philip Dormer Stanhope 4th Earl of Chesterfield, 16941773)

People use way too many very's, extremely's and excellent's in their writing. Removing them is a good start. Your message is usually far more powerful without them. Unless they're backed up by evidence, words of this nature look like exaggeration or desperation. They don't even look like confidence. They do nothing for you. Your readers have become immune to them. To me, they just look like lazy writing. Let's examine this idea a bit more.

How have you described your communication skills on your CV? "Excellent communication skills"? If the answer is yes, go and stand with the other 95% of job applicants who wrote the same.

Will the employer reading your CV believe you've got excellent communication skills because that's what you wrote? No chance. The word "excellent" will have no impact at all. The employer will look at how you've written and laid out your CV to determine whether you've got "excellent" communication skills. But he will also be aware that your CV might not be your own work. Here's how it works:

Obviously, a badly written CV tells him your communications skills are poor. However, a well-written CV does not provide him with conclusive evidence that your communication skills are good or excellent. He still needs to make a judgement on that. For me, this brings to mind a great saying we had in the Intelligence Corps: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, when faced with a well-written CV, the employer has no evidence that your communication skills are bad, but he will instinctively know that it doesn't mean they're not bad. So, to score the most points you can for "communications skills", you need to do two things. You need to present a well-written CV (obviously) and offer some evidence that they're excellent. You could try a line like this:

"Sound communication skills developed over two years as a [insert previous job where communications skills were key] and honed with [insert something else you did more recently where communication skills were essential]"

First, you've used the word "sound". That shows modesty, and it's believable. Second, you've provided some evidence, so now it's very believable. You've written "sound communications skills", but the employer will be thinking "excellent communication skills".

The practice of using moderation and presenting evidence doesn't just work on CVs. It works on everything (emails, letters, adverts, etc.) Look at these two examples from my local paper:
  • "I am an extremely experienced plumber who'll do an excellent job."
  • "After a job well done, you can post a review on my website."
The second one is a cracker. He's so confident in his plumbing abilities, he's letting the customer hold him by the throat (not literally) to ensure he does a good job. That's about as much customer confidence ("evidence") as you can cram into one sentence. Also, the words "a job well done" show moderation. They're believable.

Unfortunately, Mr "a job well done" was booked up for two months, so I went with Mr "excellent job". He was a very good plumber, to be fair. He just wasn't good at selling himself, and that's why he was available.

To make people think you're great, chip away at them with words that show moderation and words that provide evidence.
What is business writing?