Blogs aren’t blogs without opinions — but putting yours out there can be scary. With a few basic guidelines, you can dive into the most divisive topics with confidence.
Over in the Commons for Writing 201, we’ve been working on finding our angles as writers. I’ve found myself responding to the same question from several bloggers: “I want to write about X, but I don’t want to seem too opinionated. What should I do?”
Hanging your opinion out on a global laundry line can be scary, especially when you’re writing about potentially contentious topics. We often tiptoe around those stalwarts of family dinner table arguments, politics and religion, but any issue on which two reasonable bloggers can differ can be divisive — and therefore scary — to tackle publicly. Human sexuality. Parenting decisions. Food choices. Who should win The Bachelor.
Today, let’s look at some dos and don’ts for writing about sensitive topics in ways that are both constructive and true to you.
First, a deep breath.
Before we delve into specifics, a pause and a deep breath for perspective…
- Blogs thrive on opinions. Without an opinion, a blog post is like an encyclopedia article, or maybe a set of assembly instructions for an end table — utilitarian, but not that interesting. We read blogs because we’re engaged by the people behind those blogs, and that engagement happens when we a blogger’s unique point of view resonates with us.
- You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Honestly, you can’t please most of the people most of the time, either, and there are days (and topics) when pleasing some of the people some of the time is also a tall order. But you can engage your people most of the time. And who are your people? The ones who are drawn to your voice and perspective.
If you tamp down your opinion, your people can’t find you. You may be tempted to appeal to the widest audience by keeping your blog blandly palatable, but your posts will miss out on the thing that makes blogs so compelling: point of view. Sure, you won’t get hate mail… but you won’t get fan mail, either.
This doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to court controversy, but please don’t be scared of your voice or your opinions. They’re what make you a blogger worth reading.
We’re talking about your blog and your opinions — I can’t give you hard-and-fast rules, but there are a few things you can keep in mind when writing about sensitive or controversial issues:
If your opinions did spring fully formed from a magical opinion suitcase, that’s definitely an experience you should post about. Also, you should keep that suitcase somewhere safe.
- Root your opinions in your experience. Rather than making blanket pronouncements, make your experiences the basis of the discussion. After all, your opinions didn’t spring fully formed from a magical opinion suitcase. Explaining the threads that contribute to your point of view gives us a richer understanding of your position. Acknowledging the ways that your views are products of your experiences also creates a space for readers to share their own stories, whether they agree or disagree.
- Put your opinions in context. Divisive issues are a great opportunity to draw other bloggers into your post. Sharing what others have already written puts your post into a larger context, which in turn provides more entry points for readers to understand and engage with you. It also builds the connection between your blog and others, strengthening the fabric of the blogging community — good for the individual post, good for your blog, and good for the blogosphere.
- Give your post a rest before publishing. This is a useful thing to do for any post; it’s easier to see things you could improve or spot typos with fresh eyes. For a post you worry might be controversial, it’s even more important. Taking a break gives the emotion that bubbles up while writing time to settle. After a time-out, you can review your post to ensure that it comes from a place of passionate care, not anger.
Opinionated posts can stimulate lively comment conversations. They may also awaken some trolls — but don’t worry, we’ve got guidance on that, too.
As you develop your voice, you’ll come to a place where you no longer need to keep these tips front-of-mind while writing. In the beginning, when publishing new posts still produces that fizzle of adrenaline, they’ll help you be more comfortable with how you’re framing your opinion.
Where there are three Dos, there are also three Don’ts:
- Don’t namecall or denigrate others. Personal attacks may have a few of your die-hard supporters pumping their fists, but that’s it. They don’t sway anyone and they don’t make an argument stronger. Attacks block any conversation with those who don’t agree with you, and may even drive away some of those who do.
- Don’t share personal details that aren’t your own. Rooting your opinions in experience is a good way to keep a heated discussion grounded, but make sure they’re your experiences. Others’ experiences are not yours to appropriate, unless you’ve been given permission — and even then, you’re not writing from as strong a position (and never know when you might inadvertently misrepresent someone).
- Don’t namecall or denigrate others. Okay, I lied, that’s only two Don’ts. This one’s important, so it’s here twice. Remember: personal attacks really just make you look bad.
There a lot of subjectivity here and we’re all learning as we go — I’d love to hear from you about a time when you weren’t sure, a time you think you may have gotten it wrong, or the personal guidelines you have for writing about sensitive topics.