Last Time on #Controversed…
Previously I gave a brief introduction to talking about controversy and introduced the month-long article series I’ll be doing here each week. The big focus of that article was finding balance in your approach, and today’s issue is going to continue that conversation. This is the second article in said weekly series called, #Controversed, as part of an event I’m sponsoring with Moya of The Moyatorium. Be sure to check out the first issue to learn more about the event.
The Writing Checklist
When you sit down to tackle a difficult subject it can be challenging to figure out exactly where to start. You probably already understand your position, but passion and your own perspective is only going to take you so far. With that, may I present to you the Critical Writing Checklist (TM):
- The first step is choosing your topic and understanding your position. This should be the easiest part, so we won’t really focus on this step.
- See what others are saying on the topic. You were probably inspired by rhetoric on the chosen issue to begin with, but make sure you are taking in multiple viewpoints and not just those you agree or disagree with. Both will offer you valuable insight and help you better formulate your own opinion when writing.
- Decide on your talking points. This will help you maintain focus when presenting your perspective. Depending on the subject, you want to sit around 3-5 topics of discussion based on my experience. This gives you enough room to put your ideas on the table without having to risk overwhelming your reader/listener.
- Remember to bring evidence in support of BOTH sides. When you want to make a point, you need to show what both sides have to say and demonstrate why they are saying it. This brings credibility to your statements and makes you come off as informed. It doesn’t have to be super rigid evidence, this likely isn’t for an academic setting, but a few tweets or other articles should be considered. Some bonus things to remember here:
- Don’t cherry pick data. By this I mean, don’t just pick stuff that makes your position look amazing. Compelling evidence against your argument is an opportunity for you to explain why your viewpoint should be considered, thus building trust with whoever is engaging with your opinion.
- Make sure you give credit to your supporting evidence. Kind of obvious, but not everyone does that. Also make sure it’s easy to access said evidence.
- Summarize any outside sources that aren’t super short or visual. A tweet doesn’t need any additional explanation, but a 1,000+ word article is going to need you to explain it a bit. The reality is not everyone will look into your evidence, so provide the needed context for them in the writing proper.
- Next is to write it out and make necessary edits. If you are like me, you might sit down with a few goals in mind based on an outline only to cut or add things along the way. This is an important part of the process, don’t be afraid to remove whole points or add new ones as you work on getting your ideas formally written down. If it makes your argument better, do it! Some writing tips:
- Be brief, the more concisely you can put your thoughts down, the better.
- Edit carefully! Poor grammar or terrible spelling is the fastest way to turn someone off to what you are saying. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but make sure you take at least one pass over your work.
- Reading aloud helps with this.
- Finally, sit on your response for a little bit THEN publish it. I recommend a few hours, or even a full day. Sleeping on the idea can allow you to mull over your thoughts more. Mainly, this is to “cool off” from your idea. You are likely passionate about your chosen topic and that can cloud your thinking, this break allows your more rational side to give things a look. This may offer you new insights or ways to clarify existing points you hadn’t thought of previously. You may also find that it isn’t worth publishing your idea, and that’s OK too.
This list isn’t exhaustive and you don’t literally need to check the items off as you go through your process, however, this is the general outline most folks are going to end up following consciously or otherwise. The important thing to do is to take your time and not rush out your idea. It might be hard to do at first, but trust me, it’ll end up making your argument even better.
Check Your Bias
Outside of the checklist, you need to be aware of your bias throughout the process. In critical writing this is especially important. If you, for example, think Wandering Witch is a terrible show because you hate anime about witches, then your argument isn’t going to be all that compelling if you write a negative review of the show without being aware of this fact.
In my above example, being aware of this bias allows you to correct for this and present a more “fair” approach. Sure, you may hate witches in this ridiculous scenario, but maybe you like Elina’s more smug and self-centered personality. Perhaps the world grabs you in some way. The list could go on.
What this allows you to do is take this bias and turn it into opportunities to present your position in more creative and compelling ways. I don’t really want to read a one-sided review of Wandering Witch where all you say is, “I hate witches, so the show sucked”. However, I would be grabbed by an article that conveyed this sentiment, explained why, but also managed to tell me the things they enjoyed in spite of that.
It all comes back to striking that balance, so this should be on your mind at the very least as you work through any given topic. This is a useful skill beyond just critical writing, so practicing it for your daily life is a bonus too. Being able to appreciate other opinions, or look for positives among the negatives can really sway people in your direction. If anything, it’ll make folks more willing to hear you out at least.
It’s OK to Change Your Mind
I hit on this in the checklist above, but I thought it was worth making a more detailed section over. Just because you start off with a certain idea, approach, or opinion doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Sometimes, as you look further into a topic of controversy you’ll find you misunderstood the issue or a new piece of information may change how you want to discuss it.
This has happened to me several times and I can assure you I have pivoted, or even dropped, whole ideas as a result of changing my mind. One such example is in the School Days article I wrote awhile back. While I didn’t change my position, what I thought my article would look like when I first conceived of it dramatically changed when it actually came down to writing it.
Long before it was ever a show chosen for #Anitwitwatches, my initial game plan was to write an “April Fools” article where I gave my genuine opinion, just to state later that the article wasn’t a joke. To me this was a fairly silly concept that I thought would get some decent attention while being fun for folks. Obviously, I did not do this.
Eventually, it was chosen for the watch years later. I mulled over my thoughts during the time between and was pretty sure I knew what I’d say for the review I always do when the watch concluded. However, as we watched people brought up some points of view I hadn’t really seen before or considered previously. As a result, I included a lot of that stuff in the final product.
Ultimately I think this made the School Days review even better. While I unfortunately couldn’t show you how the article would have looked and how it evolved as a side-by-side comparison, you hopefully got a decent idea from my description. The lesson here is that changing your mind can bring about better work, so don’t be afraid to do it!
Keeping it Simple
Before we leave it for this week, remember to keep your idea simple and concise. It’s tempting to show off all the knowledge you have on a topic and present every angle possible, but that’s rarely a good idea. While it’s true you should provide context and different viewpoints, there is such a thing as overdoing it and overwhelming your reader.
If you have too much going on, it can cause your reader to lose the point. You’ll come off as rambling or unfocused, both of which are going to kill any chance of you being understood. As I keep hammering home, it’s all about that balance!
Keep these things in mind when you are writing and you are sure to have engaging discussions that don’t instantly devolve into shouting matches. Follow the checklist, check your bias, and keep it simple! If you do that, writing about more complicated issues goes from being somewhat intimidating to a task that can even be fun. The discussion you’ll get when you pull it off will also make it all the more worthwhile too!
Thanks for reading folks, I hope to see you in the next one! If you want to join this week’s discussion the prompts are:
- Make your own critical writing checklist, or checklist for tackling controversial topics! What is your writing/blogging voice, based on it?
- Nobody is (or should be) objective, but how biased do you think you are? What are some biases in your writing, and how do you try to challenge them?
- When discussing subjects that are difficult or controversial, how do you strike a balance between presenting a fair picture of the issue and staying true to your views? Has your view ever changed as you wrote?
- The geek problem: how do you reach the depth that you want to discuss in your writing without alienating your audience?
Remember to use the hashtag and tag us if you post them! If you are in my Discord, submit them under the submissions tab as well. Finally, if you want to support my work here please consider a donation by clicking either of the buttons below.