JS Tip 193: A Question about Asking People to Do Something

We have a question for you. First, some explanation.

In our writing workshops, we suggest one of the best ways to be clear is to identify what you want your reader to do:  

Please turn in your report.

Please change the light bulb.

In a recent workshop, Shawna West, of the Utah State Department of Medicaid and Health Financing, explained she’d been told—by a credible authority—that “Please” indicated an option. It would infer the request was unimportant. And that she should never use “Please.”

The Argument. “Please” means we’re asking the person to do something, not telling the person to do something. They have the option not to do it. And, if we want them—need them—to do something, we shouldn’t give them that option.

A Counterargument. “Please” is the magic word. (Your mother said so.) It softens the request. It make complying easier. And, if you think about it, everyone has the option to decline. Perhaps with consequences, but the option is there.

What do you think?

Does “Please” confuse the issue? Is “Please” wishy-washy?

Please let us know. We’ll continue the discussion next week.