The Art of Writing a Controversial Topic
Guest Post by Ahmad Hassen
Just prior to my book coming out, I enlisted the review services of a major book review firm. Being a first-time author eager to know how well-received my book will be, I awaited my first professional review with a healthy dose of anxiety. Although the review was relatively neutral and perhaps somewhat disappointing, something quite interesting came out of the overall process. That’s when I learned that one of the editors in this review firm wanted me to conduct an interview with the firm’s monthly publication, explaining to readers how to write successfully about ostensibly controversial topics in a cool-headed, rational manner. I thanked the editor for his interest, and started to give some thought to what he had requested.
Here is what I came up with at the time, based upon my own writing experience, which authors of seemingly contentious topics may want to consider:
- First and foremost, you must understand, and accept, that you may be writing about something that is in fact controversial even though it may not appear to you as such at the time of writing. This basic realization will help you, mentally and psychologically, craft a “communications strategy” with your audience that is specific to your topic and writing style.
- Next, try to understand why your topic is controversial. Place yourself in your audience’s shoes. What can their motivation(s) be for harboring hostility toward your topic?
- Avoid stating explicitly what you may be passionate about and, instead, find a way to indirectly tell the reader why you feel the way that you do.
- Stay focused. Don’t get into too many side discussions. Such diversions will only lessen your audience’s focus and attention on the important points you’re trying hard for them to accept—at times against their own views and conclusions.
- Try to write with a respectful, scholarly tone and allow readers to detect a hint of humility in your prose. Avoid excessive use of exclamation marks or anything similar (DOESN’T THIS BOTHER YOU?). Most people out there do want to understand an opposing view, and being cordial and professional in your writing will get you more than halfway there!
- Don’t belabor a point. Make your best case, briefly and succinctly, and move on.
- Make sure your research is solid, and double-, and triple-check your facts and figures.
- Do not overlook the need to touch upon weaknesses in your argument and be self-critical where appropriate. Either address weaknesses in your writing (if you can make a good argument) or leave them on the table so readers can judge for themselves.
- Read and re-read your manuscript many times to “filter out” emotion.
Finally, it goes without saying that if you’re self publishing you really need to interview and hire a capable editor as well as a good proofreader. These individuals will be your sounding board during the writing process and will provide you with valuable feedback on how to best connect with your audience—extremely important when writing about a controversial topic. Good luck!
Ahmad Hassan is the author of “The Science of the Quran: Proving God’s Existence through Established Modern Science” winner of the ForeWord Clarion Five Star Review, the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medal, and the Midwest Book Review Small Press Bookwatch (www. amazon.com).