The Trouble With “Should”

There’s a certain blog that I’m subscribed to

I’ve been reading it for a long time. I used to get a lot of value out of the posts, but lately I’ve noticed the tone of the blog has changed. It seems like a more sensationalized style of writing, and the content isn’t really what I’m used to seeing there.

I’m seeing an awful lot of “shoulds” in the post titles.

As a matter of fact, more than half of the last ten posts on that particular blog have a variation of the word “should” in the title.

“Why you should _____”
“You should be doing _____…”
“If you want _____, you should ______”
“Don’t _____. You should ______ instead”

…etc. etc.

That’s a lot of time spent pointing out what the reader is doing wrong, don’t you think?

Once I noticed this, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

And now when this particular blog arrives in my inbox, I get excited for a second – then I see the title, get annoyed, and hit delete. Rinse and repeat.

That blogger lost me as a reader

When we subscribe to a blog, we do so because we think the content will be useful or interesting. But even when we subscribe to get tips or instruction on a particular topic, that doesn’t mean we want to be told what to do.

When you use the words “you should”, you immediately create an atmosphere of stress and pressure, and my rebellious self turns a deaf ear to your message. Call me stubborn – but I doubt that I’m alone.

So does that mean we can’t ever offer advice on our blog?

Of course not. That would be silly. “Should” is not a bad word, and there are certainly times when it is appropriate. But I don’t recommend using it in every single message, and not even in 50% of your messages.

Overuse has the potential to be annoying and insulting, and you make your reader feel like an idiot.

Yikes, right? So what’s the alternative?

You can write in a slightly different tone and still get your message across. Instead of pointing your virtual finger with “you should”, here’s a very simple formula:

“If you’d like to (get this result), try (doing this)”.

See the difference? It’s gentler, and gives the reader a feeling of being supported.

For me personally with this particular blog I was reading, the change might not have been so noticeable if I were a new reader. But anytime you make a change, your readers are going to notice. And maybe I’m being picky, but this has rubbed me the wrong way enough that it prompted me to write about it.

Important tip: If you’re annoying (or downright pissing off) your readers, you defeat the purpose of writing to them.

So please, before you hit “publish” on your next blog post, please re-read what you’ve written, and consider the message you’re sending to your readers.

Thoughts? Comments? Aha’s? Share in the comments.

  • Well said!

    “If you’re annoying (or downright pissing off) your readers, you defeat the purpose of writing to them.”

    BUT what if they don’t realize they are doing it? Should we tell them?

    • Ah, good point. That’s a matter of personal preference, and how comfortable you are speaking your mind. I’d want to know if I was offending a reader, but I can’t speak for everyone. And the blogger certainly has the right to write anyway they want to. But remember that the reader also has power and can simply stop reading when the value disappears.

  • This applies to personal communication as well. Using the “should” word can be perceived as judgement or critisism. How often do we say to our kids or spouse “you should have done ___________”?

    • Very true, Mona! So much of what we do online also apply to our offline lives. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Very poignant message here, Lisa!

    I agree with you, wholeheartedly. I take offense at constantly being told I “should’ do this or that. Plus it feels so “condescending” in nature.

    I’m not a child. I don’t need another adult shoving a mound of “shoulds” down my throat. At this point in my life, I know the difference between right and wrong and what I should or should NOT be doing.

    Before I step down from my soapbox …

    I think it’s wonderful and acceptable to make suggestions, lend advice, educate your readers, share some resources, and showcase your expertise via your blog.

    But please don’t try to be my mother!

    • Hee hee – “don’t try to be my mother” – love that!

      I catch myself whenever I start to say or write “should”, because I don’t like being told what to do by someone who doesn’t even know me. What many people mean is that “it would help you if…” or “you’d get better results by…”, but we lump it all together with “should” because….well, it’s easy.

      Watching our words and observing our language patterns is a very valid exercise.

      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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