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Being Honest, and Why It's Better Just to Tell the Truth

We have all heard someone say “to be honest” or “if I’m honest” when speaking, and perhaps we have also thought about the mixed messages such a phrase can send.  When you use a phrase like “to be honest,” it can communicate, unwantedly, that everything else you are saying is not the truth.  What happens, then, when this occurs in writing?

If I’m Honest, Then Why Do I Need to Say I Am?

One characteristic inherent in most writing is that what is being conveyed is the author’s opinion.  What is also assumed is that it is the author’s honest opinion and that the author would not intentionally mislead his or her reader.  The author therefore does not need to include phrases like “In my opinion …”  Similarly, because the reader already believes the author is being honest, the author does not need to write, “To be honest”—or anything similar.

If He Says He’s Honest, Is He Really?

The issue with writing, though, is that it goes a step further.  When speaking, it is natural for us to be lax with our grammar and to allow others to do the same.  A large part of this is that ideas are communicated not just by the words and grammar being used, but also—and perhaps more so—by the speaker’s tone of voice and body language.

Writing, however, must rely solely on word choice, grammar and syntax to communicate its message.  Without the assistance of the speaker’s tone of voice and body language, these elements are the only ones the author has at his or her disposal to convey an idea.  The result is that any misstep, for example with an author mentioning that he or she is “being honest,” is magnified.

Am I Really Being Honest Even When I Say I Am?

While what I have described so far may be already commonly known, there is one aspect of “being honest” that is rarely addressed.  The issue comes from whether it is actually what I mean when I say it.  Do I really mean that I am “being honest” when I say I am?

When I think carefully about the times when I want to say that I am “being honest,” I realize that what I really mean is not that I am suddenly “being honest,” but that what I am telling is sensitive or otherwise difficult for me to say.  It would therefore be more accurate for me to begin such a sentence with “Something I do not often share is that …” rather than “To be honest …”

What Do I Do If I’m Not Honest Even When I Say I Am?

Don’t worry!  In a previous post, I wrote about how difficult it can be to write what we mean.  It is challenging to know what exactly our thoughts are and how to communicate them clearly.  Especially for important documents, you will want to have an experienced editor review them for you.  What you want to look for is a professional editor who has not only a solid knowledge of grammar, punctuation and word choice, but also the ability to read the meaning behind your words.  This is a unique ability among expert editors and comes from a combination of talent, knowledge and experience.  With it, your editor will be able to see where your meaning is not coming through and precisely what improvements to make for it to come through clearly.

Posted in  Professional Editing
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