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Polish Up Your Soapbox: How to Rant Without Being a Big Stupid Jerk

We all need to let off steam sometimes, and what better place than the internet? We certainly advocate for thoughtful, reflective posts, but the odd rant can be a lot of fun to write — and to read.

Can you rant without sounding like a big stupid jerk? You can, with these eight tips:

1. Don’t rant while angry.

It seems counterintuitive: rants, by definition, are rooted in anger. What gives?

There’s a big difference between writing about something that makes you angry, and writing while in the throes of rage. In one, you’re laying out a troubling issue and picking it apart, hopefully en route to offering a solution. In the other, you’re complaining and insulting. You may get a response from the choir you’re preaching to, but you’re not clarifying anything or solving a problem.

Don’t publish in the heat of the moment. You can write in the moment, but give your rant a time-out between writing and publishing. Let it sit, go take a bubble bath, return to it, and see if it really communicates what you’re trying to say or if it’s just vitriol.

2. Check your facts.

Nothing undermines a rant faster than misinformation. When one of the pillars of your rant is faulty, the whole structure suffers — a single misrepresentation throws everything else you say under suspicion.

If you’re going to poke holes in someone else’s boat, make sure your own vessel is seaworthy. Know the facts behind your position, and be honest about them; picking and choosing only the convenient facts is as damaging to an argument as a lie or error.

It also helps to have some panache while ranting. Everything sounds more serious when you say it while wearing a three-piece suit.

It also helps to have some panache while ranting. Everything sounds more serious when you say it while wearing a three-piece suit.

3. Nothing is absolute.

There are at least two sides to every story, and frequently many more. You don’t have to agree with every other position, but you should anticipate, acknowledge, and address them when you can. It makes your own position stronger, and shows that you’re approaching the issue from a thoughtful, helpful place. You’re trying to move the needle, not just naysay.

4. Talk about ideas and actions, not people.

The best way to rant without being a big stupid jerk? Don’t be a big stupid jerk. You can disagree with an idea or a behavior without insulting specific people.

Personal insults give the impression that you’re more interested in tearing someone down than finding the solution to a problem. Plus, name-calling and ad hominem attacks do little more than drive away people who might be on the fence — the very people you hope your rant will influence. Take the high road in your public blog posts, and save the invective for coffee with your best friend.

5. Offer a solution, too.

It’s easy to point out the flaws in something, but harder to offer useful solutions for addressing them. Any argument is made stronger when it presents workable solutions, and rants seem less rant-y when they include helpful suggestions. Pointing out a problem is a great first step; pointing out a solution is an even better second one.

6. Lighten the load with a laugh.

As the good governess once sang, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. A little levity is nearly always welcome in a blog post, particularly when you’re dealing with a tough subject or difficult truths. Laughter also endears people to you and helps you guide them into your corner, so pave the way to consensus with a few yuks.

7. Double-proofread.

As a general rule, citizens of the internet love to discount arguments by pointing out insubstantial but incorrect details. “You can’t tell the difference between their and they’re, and I’m supposed to listen to your policy recommendations!? Give me a break.” Don’t give readers an opening to dismiss a good argument because of an ill-placed apostrophe.

If you can, have someone else read before publishing, too. Not only will they be more likely to catch the tiny typo your eyes skip, but they provide a welcome sanity check on your arguments and tone.

8. Finish strong.

You’re impassioned enough about something that you’re writing a strongly-worded post about it, so don’t tone it down at the end.

When we want people to respond positively (or at least, not to yell at us), we equivocate: “This is just what I think; how would you handle this?” It seems like an open ending will prop the door open for conversation, but it waters down your argument. If you’ve clearly articulated your thoughts, people will respond — they don’t need an invitation that softens your position and passion.

*****

None of this is meant to say that all your posts have to be polite and balanced. You can and should have strong opinions, you can and should blog about them, and if you want to let the occasional f-bomb fly, so be it. So make sure you have your factual ducks in a row, try not to lob your f-bomb directly at someone’s head, and rant away.

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  1. Oh how number 7 speaks to me! I always feel like I’M the big jerk if I point out that someone has typos. I feel that if you’re unwilling to proofread, you’re unwilling to hear my point of view.

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  2. It’s interesting to see this article published during the same week I have launched my blog titled, “The Maniacal Rant of a Community College ‘Professor.'” Here’s hoping my blog might be inspiration for the eight points of how to avoid being a big, stupid jerk, rather than the impetus of being said jerk.

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  3. As editor of a newspaper, I can say with full confidence backed by experience that this is a beautiful post that a multitude of people can benefit from, especially writers. Too often my staff tries to write passionate opinion pieces, and they kind of end up being angry rants. Next time this happens I will just point them in the direction of this post!

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  4. These eight pieces of advice, if they aren’t taught in schools, should be. The world would be a much better place if people knew how to properly and effectively express their anger – specially now that it is so easy to scream at the world.

    Well done!

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  5. I love this blog. This is very true, i just wish the teenagers n twitter get this memo one day. Once something is read, it can’t be unread. The impression other get of you is very difficult to sway after a tantrum via the web.

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  6. My rants are almost never personal. I used to think doctors knew everything; teachers taught because they loved all children; politicians were defending the country and were not interested in sex or power etc. etc. I guess we all have feet of clay….except me and thee of course.

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  7. This is really a great outline, and very well done. Many things for myself to remember, because I sometimes love a good rant on my blog.

    Binbin
    NETime Gambling

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  8. But isn’t the main point of ranting to let off steam while extremely angry? Who wants to rant when they feel fine? They’ll just get back into the issue and become upset again. In my opinion, you can’t rant without being a big jerk. You’re angry and that’s part of human nature.

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    1. Kevin, I agree we need to rant, but if we want to be heard, yelling does not cut it. My solution – I rant to my computer or to a carefully selected Complaint Partner. That means someone who will listen, not repeat what I say anywhere, and who will remind me I have the strength to deal effectively with those who anger me. It helps me to see anger as hurt usually an injustice of some sort. Stay strong, I find it difficult and not getting any easier as I age.

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