On writing and using “I feel like…”

As I read and edit student papers, I find myself crossing out a lot of superfluous (read: extraneous, unnecessary) language which weakens the writing. Often, this extra language takes the form of:  “I believe…”, or “In my opinion…”, or “personally, in my opinion, I feel like…”. My thoughts in this are: if you’re writing it in a paper, your reader can assume that it’s your belief, opinion, feeling, etc. Taking out this language makes a statement stronger, more assertive, more clear and certain. This recent article, Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’ by Molly Worthen (April 30, 2015, New York Times Op Ed) takes a deeper look at this qualifying, weakening language and analyzes it in terms of larger sociological factors. Have a look. Do you agree with Ms. Worthen? Do you find that you use this qualifying language in your own writing or speech?

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2 thoughts on “On writing and using “I feel like…”

  1. As I begin typing my response, I find myself naturally inclined to begin my sentence with “I feel like.” Molly Worthen is right. This phrase has become part of our repertoire because as Natasha Pangarkar of Williams College puts in the article, ” ‘It’s an effort to make our ideas more palatable to the other person’.” The same goes for the other phrases you mentioned like “In my opinion” or “I believe”. If we are stating that a certain point is our personal opinion, even if it is assumed because we are the authors of the paper, making it clear that is our opinion is a guard against offending someone or saying something that isn’t necessarily a popular opinion. We live in an age where it is very important to be politically correct. Being assertive and stating your thought or belief as if it is concrete fact may come off as aggressive or may rub people the wrong way.

    Unfortunately as Worthen noted, using the phrase makes it more difficult challenge others because you cannot tell people that their own thoughts, feelings and experiences are invalid. But, it does not make it impossible. It certainly makes it easier to tell somebody that their assertions are invalid and it is much less personally offensive if it is not a critique of that person’s feelings but of an objective fact. That much I can agree with. But I don’t find it to be an existential crisis that threatens democracy and free speech like Worthen does.

    Sally McConnell-Ginet, a linguist at Cornell, said, “There are different perspectives, but that doesn’t mean there are not some facts on the ground and things anchoring us.” So given that we have the ability to be informed about of the facts that exist to “anchor” our debates in the age of information, it’s important to acknowledge that regardless of the facts, our perspective is still informed by our unique life circumstances and spectrum of identities (gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity, class, ect). Our society is not a monolith. Ignoring subjective truths is just as dangerous as ignoring objective truths. To an extent, I disagree with Worthen’s statement that, “The phrase “I feel like” is…a means of avoiding rigorous debate over structures of society that are hard to change.” Being sensitive to other people’s experiences and perspectives does not mean that it is impossible to challenge them. It just means that you have to challenge them while being cognizant of the social forces surrounding their experience that may affect their opinions too. Sure, “I think that” has no place in academic writing. But I would challenge the larger consequences that Worthen suggests that it has on our attitudes and language.

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  2. I hadn’t really noticed this in my own speech until I read this article but now I’m more aware of using it. I try to avoid using “I feel like…” in papers but I think I use it more verbally. But, it’s difficult not saying it

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