Writers, please ditch ‘There is no doubt …’

I’m going to sound like a curmudgeon, but I am sick and tired of articles that begin with that phrase. And it’s all Jane Austen’s fault. Find out why.

We are surrounded by mediocre writing, and it’s all Jane Austen’s fault.

I doubt there is ‘no doubt’

Be warned, I’m going to sound like a curmudgeon, but I am sick and tired of blog posts that begin with, “There is no doubt…” or some variation thereof.

You probably know the ones I’m talking about. They’ll start off with, “There is no doubt…” and go on to make a statement so banal, so puerile in its obviousness, that you have no choice but to shake your head, roll your eyes, and yell, “No duh, Sherlock,” while doing the hokey pokey.

(By the way, have you ever tried doing all that? At the same time? It’s impossible.)

If this type of post doesn’t start with the author’s declamation of absolute certainty, it’ll start with an equally vapid phrase, the accuracy of which could be picked apart quicker than a squirrel can bury an acorn, if we so chose:

“It’s a well-known fact that…” (Oh really? It’s a fact, eh? Based on what research?)

“It’s no surprise that…” (Why not?)

“It’s no secret that…” (Then why are you wasting my time telling me what I already know?)

Come on, people. What happened to the good old days of just saying something? When did we start needing to preface our thoughts, our observations, our opinions with unnecessary qualifiers? Just as Mary Barber wrote in a terrific guest post on WUL a while back, if you want to thank the Academy, just say so.

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged …’

It’s all Jane Austen’s fault. Because if she hadn’t written “Pride and Prejudice” (it was published 200 years ago and it’s still going strong. Two hundred!), the world would not have been introduced to Darcy and the Bennets, and never would we have read countless iterations of its opening sentence:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Technically speaking, this is neither a truth, nor universally acknowledged, though it may have been (and probably still is) a universal perception—and perhaps there is some truth in there. However, it was highly representative of Austen’s time (even with her delightful satire), and she produced this brilliant opening sentence that resonated, and still resonates, with so very many of us.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

There’s a big difference between that first sentence, which is considered one of the greatest opening lines in literature, and the blog posts that use some variation of this, invariably to sell some kind of service or product.

Potato, potahtothere is a difference

That was Austen. Austen was brilliant, and she used language the way artists use color. But not every blogger is an Austen in the making—and therein lies the rub.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

So if we’re going to make pat declarations, can’t we at least make them interesting and memorable? And let’s stop couching opinions as facts, observations as “research,” and individual opinions as general statements.

Let’s at least try to rise above the mediocre. Otherwise, what’s the point—of anything?

Shonali Burke runs a successful agency of one, is the founder of the popular #measurePR Twitter chat, and Adjunct Faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s M.A. in Communication program. A version of this article first appeared on Waxing UnLyrical.


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