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Controversy Versus Consensus, a Writers Dilemma

A common challenge with writing is putting forth your opinion while knowing you are going to upset, annoy or lose a portion of your audience.

How can you explain your position when you know it is not going to be 100% popular?

Some of the best stand-out articles are when someone actually has an opinion and explains it well. The fact is if you muddle through an argument you are going to lose some of your audience anyway through cloudy writing.

Relax, this is not about stirring up a hornets nest. You can write with a point of view without looking like an ass:

  • Have an opinion and explain it clearly.
  • Support your arguments.
  • Own your words.
  • Be polite and empathise with the other side
  • Be open to persuasion.

The important thing is to not seek controversy for the sake of attention and to be genuine. Explain things the way you see it and be prepared to be corrected.

Anyone who has stuck with this blog will have seen on occasion my opinions can differ from the popular advice.

Each time I post something like that I do lose readers, but I also get a lot of positive feedback too. You can’t please everyone and nor should you try.

There are hundreds of thousands of blogs all looking to capture the same audience as yours, there is room for differing opinions. When someone visits your blog it is to hear what you have to say. If you have an opinion share it with your readers.

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Comments

  1. Absolutely – but factoring what the regular reader wants is important too.

    PS: You may want to correct “Contraversy” to “Controversy”.

  2. Absolutely – but factoring what the regular reader wants is important too.

    PS: You may want to correct “Contraversy” to “Controversy”.

  3. In some spiritual traditions such as the one that the Dalai Lama belongs to, there is a old practice of debate. Monks debate against each other with no mercy in some cases for up to 4 hours. At the end of the day its all in good fun and for a greater purpose.

  4. In some spiritual traditions such as the one that the Dalai Lama belongs to, there is a old practice of debate. Monks debate against each other with no mercy in some cases for up to 4 hours. At the end of the day its all in good fun and for a greater purpose.

  5. @Karthik – There is a fine line between catering to readers and second-guessing them though, best to be honest with your opinions I think?

    @Loden – Cool, I didn’t know that :)

  6. @Karthik – There is a fine line between catering to readers and second-guessing them though, best to be honest with your opinions I think?

    @Loden – Cool, I didn’t know that :)

  7. It really depends on the type of blog. Some like the cloud around moveon.org or politico would surely lose their readers if they did not reinforce the beliefs they audience already has. Most blogs where people come to learn though, like this one, would be boring if you just agreed with us all the time. I come here for new ideas and insights and that includes rethinking beliefs I hold which I might be better to modify. I may not adopt every practice you propose, but I come here to read what YOU think. I already know what I think.

  8. It really depends on the type of blog. Some like the cloud around moveon.org or politico would surely lose their readers if they did not reinforce the beliefs they audience already has. Most blogs where people come to learn though, like this one, would be boring if you just agreed with us all the time. I come here for new ideas and insights and that includes rethinking beliefs I hold which I might be better to modify. I may not adopt every practice you propose, but I come here to read what YOU think. I already know what I think.

  9. Good point about some sites attracting people who want their beliefs reinforced. There are a ton of hard-line political blogs who would probably cause an upset if they included conflicting opinions. I guess we have to work out what type of content we are about :)

  10. Good point about some sites attracting people who want their beliefs reinforced. There are a ton of hard-line political blogs who would probably cause an upset if they included conflicting opinions. I guess we have to work out what type of content we are about :)

  11. Ironically, I wrote a post last week criticising a section of the BBC website, or rather some of the people who use it and the following morning I noticed I had lost about 5 subscribers – I don’t have a huge number so even 5 was noticeable. At first I was a bit miffed, but I suppose I was quite outspoken so it shouldn’t really have been a surprise. Plus, if they were the kind of people who supported the behaviour I was criticising, I don’t think they would have stuck around long anyway.

    On a personal note, I don’t think I would stop reading a blog just because the blogger occasionally wrote things I disagreed with, well, not unless they suddenly came out with something really extreme, eg: racism, misogyny etc. To me, a simple difference of opinion is a part of normal human interaction.

    Oh and thanks for adding me to Mash!

  12. Ironically, I wrote a post last week criticising a section of the BBC website, or rather some of the people who use it and the following morning I noticed I had lost about 5 subscribers – I don’t have a huge number so even 5 was noticeable. At first I was a bit miffed, but I suppose I was quite outspoken so it shouldn’t really have been a surprise. Plus, if they were the kind of people who supported the behaviour I was criticising, I don’t think they would have stuck around long anyway.

    On a personal note, I don’t think I would stop reading a blog just because the blogger occasionally wrote things I disagreed with, well, not unless they suddenly came out with something really extreme, eg: racism, misogyny etc. To me, a simple difference of opinion is a part of normal human interaction.

    Oh and thanks for adding me to Mash!

  13. The main thing is you believe in what you wrote, inevitably some people will not like it but the sting is lessened when you believe in what you say. I agree there are some opinions like the ones you list that ought not to be shared :)

  14. The main thing is you believe in what you wrote, inevitably some people will not like it but the sting is lessened when you believe in what you say. I agree there are some opinions like the ones you list that ought not to be shared :)

  15. I would never disregard my own opinion for the sake of my readers/gaining popularity. However, after I’ve stated my opinion, I am open to reasoning in the comments should people point out the flaws and offer sustainable alternatives.

    Your point, “Be polite and empathise with the other side”, is key to keeping readers. If you fully understand other points of view, and show this, it should be expected that your readers will meet you half way and promote further discussion on the subject, rather than dropping subscriptions or starting flame wars in the comments.

    Good post, I liked how you pointed out where you have made such efforts :)

  16. I would never disregard my own opinion for the sake of my readers/gaining popularity. However, after I’ve stated my opinion, I am open to reasoning in the comments should people point out the flaws and offer sustainable alternatives.

    Your point, “Be polite and empathise with the other side”, is key to keeping readers. If you fully understand other points of view, and show this, it should be expected that your readers will meet you half way and promote further discussion on the subject, rather than dropping subscriptions or starting flame wars in the comments.

    Good post, I liked how you pointed out where you have made such efforts :)

  17. Thanks Mike. Empathy is key :) I must admit though I do catch myself sometimes thinking what I “know” from my own experience is “fact” :)

  18. Thanks Mike. Empathy is key :) I must admit though I do catch myself sometimes thinking what I “know” from my own experience is “fact” :)

  19. Chris, yours is one of the “How To Blog” (my title, not necessarily yours) blogs that I really enjoy and learn so much from. Some of what you discuss, I don’t understand because I am not a “technical” kind of person. Your experience and opinion I do hold highly because you “know” what you are talking about. You write from your experiences, just as I do. That is a good place to come from. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally choose to disagree. Disagreement is what makes life interesting. I, often in my own life, choose to play “Devil’s Advocate”, not to change someone else’s mind, but so that they will think about or be open to other possibilities.

    As a small blog just starting out, I am very much aware that great content is important and until I get more visitors, I am doing everything possible to attract new readers. Visitors are good but unless they come back, I am not doing so well. I have jumped to about 50 subscribers in the past 2 weeks. I looked over my stats with Google Analytical last night. I am not sure what some of the figures mean but I will keep an eye on them to see how they change as my blog grows.

    I usually post 2 articles a week. My main one is on Sundays with the second one usually on Wednesdays. The Wednesday article may be posted on Tuesday or Thursday instead occasionally. For the past 3 weeks, I have been working on one article on Forgiveness. I finally posted it on Sunday. There were so many bits of information that were flowing to me from other sources that I just sat with the article until the flow stopped, then I pulled it all together and wrote it. Last week, I was so immerced in the Forgiveness article and did not want to interfere with the process so I did not post a Wednesday article. The response to the Sunday article started coming in within hours of me posting it. It was one of my hardest to write. Within hours of posting the Sunday article, my Wednesday article had already written itself and is sitting waiting until Wednesday to be posted. It may be posted earlier. I am having difficulty just sitting on it. Amazingly, it is called “Prelude To Forgiveness”.

    I, for one, appreciate your differences as well as likenesses of opinion and experiences. They are part of what makes your blog work so well.

  20. Chris, yours is one of the “How To Blog” (my title, not necessarily yours) blogs that I really enjoy and learn so much from. Some of what you discuss, I don’t understand because I am not a “technical” kind of person. Your experience and opinion I do hold highly because you “know” what you are talking about. You write from your experiences, just as I do. That is a good place to come from. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally choose to disagree. Disagreement is what makes life interesting. I, often in my own life, choose to play “Devil’s Advocate”, not to change someone else’s mind, but so that they will think about or be open to other possibilities.

    As a small blog just starting out, I am very much aware that great content is important and until I get more visitors, I am doing everything possible to attract new readers. Visitors are good but unless they come back, I am not doing so well. I have jumped to about 50 subscribers in the past 2 weeks. I looked over my stats with Google Analytical last night. I am not sure what some of the figures mean but I will keep an eye on them to see how they change as my blog grows.

    I usually post 2 articles a week. My main one is on Sundays with the second one usually on Wednesdays. The Wednesday article may be posted on Tuesday or Thursday instead occasionally. For the past 3 weeks, I have been working on one article on Forgiveness. I finally posted it on Sunday. There were so many bits of information that were flowing to me from other sources that I just sat with the article until the flow stopped, then I pulled it all together and wrote it. Last week, I was so immerced in the Forgiveness article and did not want to interfere with the process so I did not post a Wednesday article. The response to the Sunday article started coming in within hours of me posting it. It was one of my hardest to write. Within hours of posting the Sunday article, my Wednesday article had already written itself and is sitting waiting until Wednesday to be posted. It may be posted earlier. I am having difficulty just sitting on it. Amazingly, it is called “Prelude To Forgiveness”.

    I, for one, appreciate your differences as well as likenesses of opinion and experiences. They are part of what makes your blog work so well.

  21. Yeah I agree, good-natured disagreement can definitely make life more interesting. I guess it is about putting yourself into what you do and being authentic and true to your own beliefs. If I had a pound for every time I got knocked for what I believe I would probably be able to buy a new laptop ;) but at the same time I would never take it back because I only tend to share those thoughts when I think it matters :)

  22. Yeah I agree, good-natured disagreement can definitely make life more interesting. I guess it is about putting yourself into what you do and being authentic and true to your own beliefs. If I had a pound for every time I got knocked for what I believe I would probably be able to buy a new laptop ;) but at the same time I would never take it back because I only tend to share those thoughts when I think it matters :)

  23. Chris, thanks for addressing this issue. I think the key is your point 3 – owning your own words.

    For me that means writing what you hold to be true when it needs to be said (rather than stirring up controversy for the sake of it).

    And owning includes taking responsibility for the consequences – like living with it if readers drift away – but perhaps also asking ourselves if we got the tone right in the way we wrote (or did we drift into ranting/opinionated), being ready to step down and apologise if you get things wrong – and so on.

    Joanna

  24. Chris, thanks for addressing this issue. I think the key is your point 3 – owning your own words.

    For me that means writing what you hold to be true when it needs to be said (rather than stirring up controversy for the sake of it).

    And owning includes taking responsibility for the consequences – like living with it if readers drift away – but perhaps also asking ourselves if we got the tone right in the way we wrote (or did we drift into ranting/opinionated), being ready to step down and apologise if you get things wrong – and so on.

    Joanna

  25. Exactly, thanks for that :) Your last point rings true for me especially Joanna, early on in the history of this blog I posted what basically turned out to be a rant and it sat uneasily with me for a while until I had to go back and edit it. While I wish I had never posted in that way at all I felt I could live with what I had written far more when I had a chance to look carefully at what I was doing. If we are prepared to take the rewards from what we produce we should also be willing to accept the other consequences too.

  26. Exactly, thanks for that :) Your last point rings true for me especially Joanna, early on in the history of this blog I posted what basically turned out to be a rant and it sat uneasily with me for a while until I had to go back and edit it. While I wish I had never posted in that way at all I felt I could live with what I had written far more when I had a chance to look carefully at what I was doing. If we are prepared to take the rewards from what we produce we should also be willing to accept the other consequences too.

  27. True as always, Chris. If you come off having a strong opinion on something, yes, it can lose you some readers, but it’s better than coming off as avoiding holding an opinion.
    However, four and five are very important points. If you’re not polite and open to discussion then you’ll likely come off as an ass.

  28. True as always, Chris. If you come off having a strong opinion on something, yes, it can lose you some readers, but it’s better than coming off as avoiding holding an opinion.
    However, four and five are very important points. If you’re not polite and open to discussion then you’ll likely come off as an ass.

  29. The person and the personality behind the blog is important to people. It’s why they stay after they visit for the first time. Most bloggers would benefit from being more opinionated (provided you can argue your case well and not be a jerk), not less.

    Notice how some people are constantly polarizing everyone and how attention follows them wherever they go. I don’t know who said this but I remember more than once hearing a saying that goes something like: If you’re not making enemies, you’re not doing anything important enough.

    That’s a little strong, but you get the idea.

  30. The person and the personality behind the blog is important to people. It’s why they stay after they visit for the first time. Most bloggers would benefit from being more opinionated (provided you can argue your case well and not be a jerk), not less.

    Notice how some people are constantly polarizing everyone and how attention follows them wherever they go. I don’t know who said this but I remember more than once hearing a saying that goes something like: If you’re not making enemies, you’re not doing anything important enough.

    That’s a little strong, but you get the idea.

  31. As far as consensus is concerned I’m of the opinion that a blog written for ‘everyone’ is really a blog for no one.

    I totally agree that how you express your ideas (not all of us can do a Henry Rollins style rant and get away with it) and your debating skills are as important as the actual idea.

    Being controversial for the sake of it is about as meaningful as this line from South Park (sorry Chris for childishly bringing it back to this) “you can’t be a non-conformist if you don’t drink coffee.”

    I assume though, for all those bloggers out there who have large subscriptions – you’d start to be a little more careful about expressing your ideas and opinions. I don’t think they should though – many people read blogs (including myself) for the connection not just the content – being honest keeps that connection alive. We’re smart us humans – we know when someone’s not being authentic.

  32. As far as consensus is concerned I’m of the opinion that a blog written for ‘everyone’ is really a blog for no one.

    I totally agree that how you express your ideas (not all of us can do a Henry Rollins style rant and get away with it) and your debating skills are as important as the actual idea.

    Being controversial for the sake of it is about as meaningful as this line from South Park (sorry Chris for childishly bringing it back to this) “you can’t be a non-conformist if you don’t drink coffee.”

    I assume though, for all those bloggers out there who have large subscriptions – you’d start to be a little more careful about expressing your ideas and opinions. I don’t think they should though – many people read blogs (including myself) for the connection not just the content – being honest keeps that connection alive. We’re smart us humans – we know when someone’s not being authentic.

  33. If I’m writing something I know people will disagree with, or there’s an obvious argument against my opinion, I always acknowledge the other side. Just doing that is usually enough to relieve any anger I might cause.

    Of course, the topics I write about aren’t all that controversial to begin with, so I suppose that helps.

  34. If I’m writing something I know people will disagree with, or there’s an obvious argument against my opinion, I always acknowledge the other side. Just doing that is usually enough to relieve any anger I might cause.

    Of course, the topics I write about aren’t all that controversial to begin with, so I suppose that helps.

  35. 1. I’m not against ‘paid-for’ links either, but it gets kind of annoying being marketed to all the time, especially with the pop-ups I am seeing now on blogs.

    2. Agree full heartedly on the ‘skip-a-day’. I tend to skip many days! ;)

    3. People think blogging makes them money???? ;) I am with you all the way on this. In fact if money is the sole reason to blog I don’t see how it could be fun in anyway. It’s kind of like a job, you either do it cause it’s fun or you do it cause you HAVE to. Of course, there is some wriggle room on this.

    4. Great content. Hrmm this is an interesting statement. Seems today that blogging is now becoming a sort of business enterprise to a certain degree. I am sure there is a marketing reconnaissance of sorts to blogging today, but I am either intuitively doing the steps or not stepping at all. I am building a readership based on areas people and I may have in common. In other words I am looking for resonance in my readership. I hope people are able to find me, but then again, I am not pushing my blog through a marketing squeeze chute per se. I guess it all depends on a persons goals and aspirations. I publicize as much as possible, but I would rather write than market (despite my degree in the topic). I keep up with two blogs and I blog for fun and I hope it’s information as well, but I would rather people treat my blog as more of a coffee table book of sorts.

    I thought this post was really good, and it made me want to respond.

  36. 1. I’m not against ‘paid-for’ links either, but it gets kind of annoying being marketed to all the time, especially with the pop-ups I am seeing now on blogs.

    2. Agree full heartedly on the ‘skip-a-day’. I tend to skip many days! ;)

    3. People think blogging makes them money???? ;) I am with you all the way on this. In fact if money is the sole reason to blog I don’t see how it could be fun in anyway. It’s kind of like a job, you either do it cause it’s fun or you do it cause you HAVE to. Of course, there is some wriggle room on this.

    4. Great content. Hrmm this is an interesting statement. Seems today that blogging is now becoming a sort of business enterprise to a certain degree. I am sure there is a marketing reconnaissance of sorts to blogging today, but I am either intuitively doing the steps or not stepping at all. I am building a readership based on areas people and I may have in common. In other words I am looking for resonance in my readership. I hope people are able to find me, but then again, I am not pushing my blog through a marketing squeeze chute per se. I guess it all depends on a persons goals and aspirations. I publicize as much as possible, but I would rather write than market (despite my degree in the topic). I keep up with two blogs and I blog for fun and I hope it’s information as well, but I would rather people treat my blog as more of a coffee table book of sorts.

    I thought this post was really good, and it made me want to respond.

  37. A colleague of my dad’s had a great technique that I love. He would rant up, down, and sideways, arguing his point with passion and perhaps a little too much enthusiasm. Then he would say, “That’s how I see it. You may see it differently.”

    If we can hold that thought–”you might see it differently”–it helps a lot. And we can be pretty opinionated without being blockheads.

    This is very timely for me, as my blog post today might cost me a bunch of subscribers. (Wait, I don’t have a bunch of subscribers. OK, it might cost me a significant fraction.) That is ok. Sometimes you just feel at peace knowing you said something you had to say.

  38. A colleague of my dad’s had a great technique that I love. He would rant up, down, and sideways, arguing his point with passion and perhaps a little too much enthusiasm. Then he would say, “That’s how I see it. You may see it differently.”

    If we can hold that thought–”you might see it differently”–it helps a lot. And we can be pretty opinionated without being blockheads.

    This is very timely for me, as my blog post today might cost me a bunch of subscribers. (Wait, I don’t have a bunch of subscribers. OK, it might cost me a significant fraction.) That is ok. Sometimes you just feel at peace knowing you said something you had to say.

  39. By nature I am a “straight shooter” but I find blogging im a lot nicer. Should I change my blogging style??

  40. By nature I am a “straight shooter” but I find blogging im a lot nicer. Should I change my blogging style??

  41. @Jeremy – Yup, I think the right attitude is all it takes, a lively and respectful discussion is perfect, it is when no discussion is allowed that things get a bit off

    @Michael – I wrote something similar a while ago, to be successful means people hate what you do

    @LAChick – I read blogs for the connection too, although I have been slack with keeping up my commenting lately. Nice quote :)

    @Brad – I agree, acknowledging there are other points of view could diffuse any heat from the discussion, as long as it is done in a way that doesn’t dismiss them out of hand. There are a lot of places on the web, political, religious, science vs religion, even IT, where the other side are not given that benefit.

    @Rob – Some people naturally spread their ideas and so do not consider what they do as promotion. This reinforces the idea that all you need is great content. In fact if you are not a naturally mixer or networker, if all you do is write great content, then you are relying on luck. Even to be found in a search engine someone has to have linked to you. Other people are as important as our own writing :) Content might be King but a King all on his own is just some guy in a funny hat.

    @Sonia – I like that but it depends on how he said it I guess :)

    @Jermayn – Keep your personality, just remember to be respectful. Now more than ever it is important to be authentic and people will be attracted by that.

  42. @Jeremy – Yup, I think the right attitude is all it takes, a lively and respectful discussion is perfect, it is when no discussion is allowed that things get a bit off

    @Michael – I wrote something similar a while ago, to be successful means people hate what you do

    @LAChick – I read blogs for the connection too, although I have been slack with keeping up my commenting lately. Nice quote :)

    @Brad – I agree, acknowledging there are other points of view could diffuse any heat from the discussion, as long as it is done in a way that doesn’t dismiss them out of hand. There are a lot of places on the web, political, religious, science vs religion, even IT, where the other side are not given that benefit.

    @Rob – Some people naturally spread their ideas and so do not consider what they do as promotion. This reinforces the idea that all you need is great content. In fact if you are not a naturally mixer or networker, if all you do is write great content, then you are relying on luck. Even to be found in a search engine someone has to have linked to you. Other people are as important as our own writing :) Content might be King but a King all on his own is just some guy in a funny hat.

    @Sonia – I like that but it depends on how he said it I guess :)

    @Jermayn – Keep your personality, just remember to be respectful. Now more than ever it is important to be authentic and people will be attracted by that.