You know what’s awkward? Having parent-teacher conferences when the student in question is in the room — like the kind I’ve been having lately in my job as a tutor/mentor. You don’t want to kill the kid’s self-esteem or make him feel like he’s being ambushed. On the other hand, you need to express to both the parent and student that his current performance ain’t cutting the mustard. So you end up making tentative statements like, “I’d like to see you putting in a little bit more effort,” or “You’re starting to manage your time a bit better, but you’re still kind of wasting time.”
I often find myself using these types of qualifiers both at home and at work. The other day, when a student came in to work on a paper but instead spent the entire afternoon texting, I said, “I hope when you come in tomorrow you’ll be a little bit more focused.” Then I shook my head. “No. Correction. I hope you’ll be a lot more focused. I hope you’ll be focused on the paper and not on anything else.”
As it turns out, I use these tentative qualifiers in my writing as well. I’m doing yet another revision of my novel (but my agent says we’re getting close to being done!) and I have noticed sentences like:
She felt slightly dizzy.
She was almost frightened.
She was starting to feel somewhat confused.
Gosh, I thought, why don’t I go ahead and make her dizzy instead of slightly dizzy? As for the second sentence, what does “almost frightened” mean anyway? Either you’re scared or you’re not. And “she was starting to feel somewhat confused” is so far removed from the actual feeling. Do I really need all those qualifiers chipping away at the significance of the sentence?
Because, see, the problem with those parent-teacher conferences, is that all the “little bits” and “kind ofs,” make the parent and student think what you’re saying is not such a big deal after all. And you’re in danger of the same thing happening if you use too many in your writing.
Sure, I know that “she felt dizzy” has a different meaning than “she felt slightly dizzy,” and maybe the latter is what you really mean. I’m not saying that you never need these qualifiers. What I am suggesting is that you use the “find” function on your manuscript and search for the following words and phrases. Then decide if you really need them.
Words to Watch Out For — Do you really need to use these, or does the sentence work better without them?
in a way