Thanks, Mum (Mistake #76)

I’ve written about ingratitude previously in Mistake No. 48 so perhaps it’s only fair gratitude gets a turn. 

I am not suggesting you do not thank your mum. She wiped your bottom once, after all. But I am suggesting you consider doing it in person rather than in an article. 

If thanking someone is the motivation behind your writing of an article – for example, a personal account of how your mum stuck by you during a period of drug addiction – then it’s worth considering whether you’re writing the article for the right reason. Because when the piece is printed, you’ve shown your proud mother the article and she duly feels thanked – the article will still be there, in the public domain, possibly forever. Have you thought that through? Is that what you really want? 

It may well be, and good for you if so, and your main motivation in such a case may be to share your story to help other people who find themselves in circumstances similar to your own and to your family’s. If so, once again, great – but should you be thanking your mother directly? Part of me still thinks not. 

Consider these two lines: 

Thank you, mum, for sticking by me through it all. 

and

I’ll forever be grateful to my mum for sticking by me through it all. 

The first speaks to your mum; the second speaks to your reader. As soon as you start addressing one individual, you’re shutting out the rest, so while some editors may not mind, some editors might. There are of course going to be exceptions to what I’m about to say – a ‘letter to a loved one’ slot, perhaps – but I would always err on the side of caution and advise never directly speaking to any one person or group of people via the medium of the printed word. 

It’s not often I come across examples of the above among student work. I do see it more in personal health or medical stories – with long roll-calls of thank-yous to nursing staff, doctors, anaesthatists and surgeons – and, curiously, in event or exhbition reports, where some writers feel the need to thank the organisers, sponsors, hosts etc. (You can mention all these people, by the way, just don’t thank them, would be my advice. Say how great and supportive they were; say how they overcame obstacles to tend to you or organise the event. All that is fine.) 

I’ve made the above points in passing before, and I’m sure I’ve done likewise with what I’m about to add here, but this is all essentially about never losing sight of your reader, and the fact that when you write for publication you are writing for that reader, a person you have never met – in fact, many thousands of persons you have never met – not one or two whom you know well and possibly love or to whom you’re feeling indebted.

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