It is often necessary to admit that what you are asserting is not absolutely true or always applicable. Doing so is called qualification. Qualification always risks blurring your focus. Suppose, for example, that a writer is urging a criticism of college football. He or she begins:
College football is a semiprofessional sport.
This is clear and emphatic. But it isn't exactly true: the issue is not that simple.
Now suppose that, recognizing this complexity, the writer adds a second sentence:
College football is a semiprofessional sport. Some universities do play a purely amateur game.
The new sentence makes the writer less vulnerable to the charge of oversimplification, but the protection has been purchased at the expense of possibly confusing readers, who are no longer sure what to expect. Will the paragraph be about universities which subsidize football, or about those which do not?
As this example suggests, qualification involves at least the appearance of contradiction. The trick is to qualify without confusing readers as to the main point. It is not difficult to do, once you understand a few basic principles.
t> Whenever possible, subordinate the qualification.
College football is a semiprofessional sport, although some universities do play a purely amateur game.
This makes better sense. By expressing the qualification in the adverbial the writer now reduces its impor tance. The thought, however, still progresses awkwardly.
Placing the last leaves it uppermost in the reader's This brings us to a second principle.
t> When you can, place the qualification first and wind up on the main point.
Although some universities do play a purely amateur game, college football is a semiprofessional sport.
Use qualifying words and phrases.
Although a few universities do play a purely amateur game, bigtime college football is, in general, a semiprofessional sport.
The addition of such expressions as "a few," "big-time," and "in general" further limits the writer's assertion. So phrased, the sentence has qualification to forestall easy chal lenge from those disagree with it. Yet it remains clearly focused.
When a qualification must he expressed in a separate sentence, begirt it with a word stressing its obviousness and follow it by repeating the major idea.
Big-time college football is a semiprofessional sport. Of course a few universities do play a purely amateur game. But these are only a few; on the whole, the game is subsidized.
It is not always possible to include a qualification in sentence that carries the main point. In that event, introducing the qualification with an admission of its truth tends to disarm it. "Of course" (or "certainly," "obviously," "admittedly," "it is true that"), you write, "such and such is the case." The initial adverb tells the reader that you are well aware of the exception, which, the adverb implies, doesn't matter very much. With the qualification completed, you then reassert your main point, beginning it with a strong signal of contradiction ("but," "however," "yet," "still," "even so"). At times a qualification requires several sentences or even an entire paragraph. For example, George R. Stewart, arguing that the American colonists constituted an essentially homogeneous culture, writes:
With few exceptions the colonists of European stock were of northwestern European origins, and there can have been, racially, only negligible differences among them. Even in their cultural backgrounds they differed little. They were heirs of the European Middle Ages, of the Renaissance, and of the Reformation. They were Christians by tradition, and nearly all were Protestants.
Naturally the groups differed somewhat, one from another, and displayed some clannishness. They were conscious of their differences, often more conscious of differences than of resemblances. Thus a Pennsylvania governor of was already voicing the cry that the American conservative has echoed ever since. "We are being overwhelmed by the immigrants!" he said in effect. "Will our country not become German instead of English?"
Nevertheless, from the perspective of two centuries and from the point of view of the modern world with its critical problems of nationality and race, the differences existing among the various colonial groups fade into insignificance. We sense, comparatively speaking, a unified population. In the political realm, indeed, there were divergences that might lead even to tarrings and featherings, but racially and socially and religiously the superficial differences were less important than the basic unity.
Professor Stewart's second paragraph qualifies the point he makes in the first and returns to in the third. Notice that he begins paragraph two with "Naturally," removing the sting from the concession, and that he opens paragraph three with an emphatic "Nevertheless." (The final sentence of that paragraph, incidentally, contains a brief qualification of its own. Can you identify it?)
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