Saturday, November 14, 2009

Overstatement

After reading a post about how Strunk & White is a deeply weird book, I was inspired to pick it up and read it cover-to-cover, which I don't believe I'd ever actually done before. The book exhorts the reader, among many other wise statements, "Do not overstate":

When you overstate, the reader will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in his mind because he has lost confidence in your judgment or your poise.

I was briefly tempted to add this sentence to my email signature. It is the sentiment I would most like to convey to people who say things on the Internet. Too often, I read posts from people with whom I actually agree, but who make me flinch by overstating their case and poisoning the rest of their argument as a result. Certainly vet school has drilled into my head the rule that I should never make a statement that I can't back up, but even people who don't have graduate-level scientific training should be able to recognize that it's just bad debate style to make statements that overstep themselves. Less is more.

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