Over on kata ta biblia, Patrick McCullough talks about assertions vs arguments and quotes Marianne Meye Thompson from Fuller. Along with much with which I agree he says that ‘She points out that you should never say “I think that” or “in my opinion,” but should rather give reasonings and simply remove those phrases’.
This is a convention in academic writing that has always made me uncomfortable when I am presenting original research or critiquing another person’s work in a public forum rather than simply writing a review of the literature.
If Bloggs, whose scholarship I generally respect, has says something with which I disagree, I would much rather say “In my opinion (or it seems to me that) in presenting this argument, Bloggs has overlooked X, because…”, rather than simply “In presenting this argument, Bloggs has overlooked X, because…”. I think that the “in my opinion…” softens my critique enough to give Bloggs the opportunity to say “Redman presents an interesting perspective and one that I had not previously considered…” rather than feeling the need to “come out fighting” to justify what s/he has said. I like dialogue and I think that the occasional “in my opinion” facilitates dialogue.
It also strikes me as somewhat dishonest to present something that is my own tentative opinion without indicating in some way that I am not articulating mainstream consensus, and I know it. And on the other hand, if I think that what I am about to articulate is exciting and groundbreaking work, I don’t want to say just that this is true because… I want to be able to at least give the reader a hint that this is new and different.
Meye Thompson’s position is, of course, the convention in the field and I am still a student, so that’s the way I write, despite my personal inclinations. Of course, you don’t want to overdo the “it seems to me”s or you run the risk of being thought opinionated, which would never do. 🙂 YMMV, of course.