Saturday, December 16, 2006

Polemic writing: Use a sniper's rifle, not a shotgun

Okay, for those who wanted it, here it is: my tired, ten-year-old advice on how to write a press release, nipped and tucked so it now advises how to write a good polemical blog post (see if you can spot the joins). Not every blog post is a polemic, but every poster of polemic blogs might find this useful. If you don't need it, don't read it.

[From the archives...] Want to be a libertarian blogger? Great!! Here's a few guidelines to help you put together your posts:

Unlike this one, every good post needs a hook on which to hang your argument. A post is a seduction, and you have to seduce people into reading it, however you try and do it. The readers you want to seduce are busy people -- you have to find some means of giving them a way in by making it seem worth reading on. And then you have to make sure it is worth reading on.

Most people won't read beyond the first paragraph (particularly if they're reading you on a news reader), so that opening paragraph must be provocative enough to grab the attention AND to make your point in one hit -- AND try and seduce them into reading further. Make that first paragraph count. That's as much as most people are going to know (or care) about what you think.

If they want to read further, they probably want to know why you said what you said. Tell them - that's why second, and sometimes third, paragraphs were invented. Explain your position, and make those paragraphs count.

Notice I said "second, and sometimes third, paragraphs"? Don't piss around. Your readers are busy people, and so are you.

Press releases need the oxygen of timeliness to survive; not so for blogs. Press releases make the news; blog posts generally comment on the news. So unlike press releases you can get something off your chest even a week or more later -- a great way to relieve that blood pressure. But a week or so later you have to have something to say that hasn't already been said - and most people's minds were already made up on Day One.

A good post uses a sniper's rifle rather than a shotgun - it has ONE strong point rather than several, and it doesn't spray its load around: it shoots straight for its target. (If you do have two points to make on a subject, then write two posts.)

On a similar point: no flab. Put your posts on a diet. If a post was a muesli -- a bit of a stretch, I know -- then it needs lots of sultanas, and bugger-all bran. Too much filler and too many filling words and you're on your way to sounding like a Hubbard's cereal. Edit your posts, with brevity being the virtue prized above all, clarity being second.

Every post is a missionary, trying to change the world, but each one goes out on its own, without you to explain what you meant by it all. Before pressing 'publish,' read it through as if you're an intelligent reader without any clue what you're talking about. How does it sound to them? If it sounds like you don't have a clue, then you have more work to do.

Invite the reader to form your conclusions for you. If for example you're going to insult someone, by the time you've given all your reasons for despising somone your insult should just be the logical conclusion -- your reader should be able to join you in agreeing.

Argue forcefully. If you don't appear to believe what you're talking about, then why the hell should your reader?

If they've read all the way to the end, your reader will want to know why they bothered. Leave them a moral. "It's enough to make you vote Libertarianz" is an obvious one. "Politicians are scum," is another. Whatever it is, try to leave the reader some quotable one liner to remember, one that sums up what you just said.

And finally, if you want to use words like 'vermin,' 'scum,' 'maggot,' and so on, then go right ahead. If you don't, your comments section will soon be filled with them anyway -- best you get in first. :-)

Hope that helps you. Go to it!! And as my footie coach used to say: Do as I say, not as I do.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Rebel Radius said...

Excellent reading, I value your experience.

Thank you very much.

12/16/2006 10:19:00 am  
Anonymous mawm said...

Thanks for the lesson - now to put it into practice.....mmmnn...going to be difficult.

12/16/2006 12:17:00 pm  
Blogger sagenz said...

in my experience the heading is almost more important than the first para. I have noticed that i get a lot of google referrals for old posts with good headings.

check out how your post appears in google. you need to hook with the heading for those who are not destination shopping.

12/18/2006 12:15:00 pm  

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