Though common sense may tell you that publishing controversial content on your website or blog may be something to avoid, the truth is that controversial writing sells.
Everyone loves a good debate — in fact, we thrive on it. (I mean, look at the insane firestorm that surrounded that stupid dress.)
Tactfully inserting yourself into a heated conversation is a great way to bring fresh traffic to your site, make your posts more shareable, and promote engagement with your brand.
However, tackling any controversial topic requires walking a fine line between initiating a dialogue and sparking a battle you’ll never win. If you’ve been wondering how to write about controversial topics without driving readers away, here are some key points to keep in mind.
CHOOSE TOPICS WISELY
Look for controversial topics that are timely, relevant to your industry, and for which you can create a compelling argument without offending readers. Don’t fall into the trap of discussing sensitive subjects simply for the sake of creating a stir.
One approach is to look for topics that are a little more benign: “why this new app isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” “ways this popular product is actually hurting the environment,” or “why this new law is bad for businesses.” Such topics are more likely to be interesting to your readers, without coming off as offensive.
DETERMINE YOUR GOAL
Are you hoping to inspire action amongst readers who already agree with your opinion on the topic? Or are you trying to sway somebody currently on the fence (or even who disagrees with you) to share your opinion? Be clear what your goal is so that you can present a set of facts and a narrative that is most likely to achieve this objective with your readers.
STICK TO THE FACTS
Even if your readers disagree with your opinion, you want them to respect you. Laying a clear foundation of proven facts will add credibility to your piece and reinforce your standing as a reputable source. Stretching the truth or relying on unproven information sets up those with other opinions to easily be able to poke holes in your argument, ultimately defeating the purpose of your piece.
GUIDE YOUR READERS TO A CONCLUSION
With your goal in mind and a solid foundation of facts already established, create a narrative that leads your readers to a conclusion that supports your opinion. Your piece will be far more effective if you create an opportunity for your readers to take everything you’ve said into account and form the opinion that you share, as opposed to simply telling them your view from the start. This can be a challenge, but ultimately will differentiate a mediocre piece of controversial writing from a great one.
AVOID OFFENDING YOUR READERS
By the very nature of writing on a controversial topic, you are going to have readers who disagree with your point of view. A well written piece doesn’t have to offend them, however. Pointing out that your opinion is just one view on the topic or stating that you’re simply aiming to get people thinking and to initiate a conversation is a great way of creating engagement without angering your readers.
GET FEEDBACK ALONG THE WAY
Particularly when writing on controversial topics, consider sharing periodic drafts with trusted friends or colleagues. Hearing their reaction to your work, getting feedback on whether it accomplishes your goal, and using them as a litmus test to make sure you haven’t inadvertently created an offensive piece, will result in a more effective piece once you’re ready to publish.
NOW TAKE ON THE CONTROVERSY
Controversy sells. Newsmen know it; magazine writers know it; bloggers know it. These tips will set you up for success so that you create a piece that accomplishes your goal without offending your readers. The question shouldn’t be whether or not you’ll ever write about anything controversial.
The question should be how you’ll handle it when you do.