Many, Some, Most, Few..The Tools of a Working Writer

When I first started out as a freelance writer, there was a kind of unspoken rule among writers and editors regarding some common words. I could be writing a story about anything — strollers or refrigerators or even ways to get your baby to give up her bottle — but my method always started out the same: Interview somewhere between 8 and 12 executives or experts, and then see where there opinions intersected.

Here’s where the rule comes in: If, say, all the executives I interviewed said their companies were introducing new models of high chairs, I would refrain from using any modifier, stating simply, “Manufacturers are introducing new high chairs this spring.” If more than half were introducing new high chairs, I would use the same sentence, but start it with the word “Many” or “Most.” If just under half were doing this, I would use “Some,” and if well less than half were, the word would become “Few.”

Now, I was clearly taking some literary license here, as 8 or 12 experts did not  constitute the entire universe of high-chair producers. Counting importers and small regional manufacturers, there could be dozens, if not hundreds. I was extrapolating on a gigantic scale. Still, I always made sure to contact  marketing executives from the largest and most successful companies, etc. And my editors were okay with that. They never questioned me. I think my readers understood the context as well. And the conclusions I drew were sound and helpful.

Fast forward to today, as I continue to write about consumer products — but now, a word like “many” or “most” will make some editors I know apoplectic. “HOW MANY IS ‘MANY?'”  they’ll insert in red into my manuscript, the written equivalent of shouting. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘SOME?'” And if I happen to  mention a particularly interesting new product, they’ll ask, “IS THIS THE FIRST OF ITS KIND?” or “IS ANY OTHER COMPANY DOING THIS?”

“Not that I know of,” I’ll answer, or “I haven’t found any other products like this one.” But it bothers me to say this, as it seems to indicate I’m shirking on the job. No, I haven’t located every single company making a particular product — how could I possibly interview 60,80, 100 companies for one article that has a deadline of about a month? It could take me a year to reach that many companies — and I still wouldn’t be sure I had contacted them all.

What do you think of the words “many” and “most” when you write — or when you read an article? How comfortable are you with an experienced writer who sometimes relies on extrapolation?

Another tense day in the life of just another working writer.



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