I have to make an appeal to a Board of Examiners regarding a progress issue, and I'm stuck with which style to write in.

I wrote my appeal with a slightly personal tone, since it is a personal letter - I want to show my personal interest and commitment in the issue and solving it. Some reviewers gave me this feedback:

  • A Guidance counsellor thought it was alright in quick email feedback.
  • Other reviewer, who had been in a similar position, said they were very neutral, objective and as a result it was much too personal, and that I should have left out the majority of the adjectives.

So, I'm at a dilemma. As much as they do not want literary masterpieces (which understand and I am not trying to do), the latter suggestion leaves it cold and without a hint of interest, which is exactly what I would like to convey. I've tried to substantiate my claims and statements with facts as much as I can, but I still feel I can't leave out adjectives.

  • "This was a very frustrating delay" as opposed to "This was a frustrating delay"

  • "Despite my best attempts" as opposed to "Despite my attempts"

  • "This process took very long" as compared to "This process took long"

  • "I really attempted to avoid" as opposed to "I attempted to avoid"

Field is aerospace engineering.

  • Can you give context as to whether the progress issue involved interpersonal communication and the stakes? Your post suggests you are between fine parsing and over-editing. Expressing emotion is different from pointing fingers. – mac389 Jul 5 '15 at 14:13
  • @mac389 It's a course I should have finished but I have not. The blame is on me pending illness. It's an external senior faculty group I have never met in person. – RebeliousInterlectual Jul 5 '15 at 14:20
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    Regardless of the style you chose, you should delete all occurrences of "very" and "best" as they do not convey warmth or interest, they are essentially meaningless filler. – StrongBad Jul 5 '15 at 14:23
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    @BillBarth Mark Twain is usually attributed with saying "Substitute damn every time you're inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." Is that a good enough citation? I think everyone of the example sentences is better without the adjectives. – StrongBad Jul 5 '15 at 14:44
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    @StrongBad, sorry for the snark and thanks for your very interesting opinion. Obviously you don't think we should remove every adverb or adjective from English writing, but you seem to have joined the bandwagon that finds it best to remove a few of them. I don't think even formal writing should have these kinds of strong rules, but if people like you are going to take offense at their occurrence, it might be wise for OP to find substitutes. I think the sentences without the modifiers at all are flat at best and could benefit from some intensification in at least some cases. – Bill Barth Jul 5 '15 at 15:04

There are a number of comments on here regarding your use of intensifiers in the example sentences. Overall, I would avoid these because, while this is an emotional issue for you, it is unlikely to be for the Board of Examiners. It is important to present a "face" that is perceived as rational and objective, not overly emotional or making excuses. I have personally found that becoming emotional while trying to assert my needs has generally ended up undermining my goal (whether or not this SHOULD be the case is another issue entirely, particularly in the case of physical or mental illness when one has not as many resources to advocate for oneself).

That said, wherever possible, try to replace "empty" sentences with examples. For instance, instead of "this process took very long," quantify how long it took. Instead of "despite my best attempts," describe in detail these attempts. Instead of "I really attempted to avoid," describe the measures that you took to avoid [whatever thing]. Perhaps this is the scientist in me talking, but I always feel factual details are the most convincing.

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