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By Tricia Goodwin
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
In this deeply divided political moment in the U.S., expressing your opinion publicly—even if it is well-formed, supported, and thoughtful—can be quickly dismissed as “fake news.”
This conflation has, unfortunately, taken its toll on those who still want to express their voices as a part of thoughtful discourse. Reflexively labeling any opinion—for the simple fact that it is an opinion—as “fake news” can shut down effective communication. And effective communication is precisely what we need in a time of such divisiveness. Rather than move us forward, shutting down communication stifles debate and stagnates our society.
So what is the best way for you, as a writer, to assert your voice without having it dismissed as fake news? Carefully craft your voice and support it with reasoned, logical evidence before you present it publicly. Doing so will not only allow you to voice your opinion effectively in public arenas, but also help you carefully consider the voices that oppose yours. Through this process you will not only become a more seasoned writer, but you will also grow as a critical thinker and member of society.
Find your voice
What does it mean to “find your voice?”
- First, consider your stance on a given topic.
- Second, take stock: what do you know about the topic?
- Finally, consider why your stance is what it is. Why do you have this opinion?
As you begin to write down your thoughts, be aware of the following:
- Consider your audience. If you write for a large public audience, keep in mind that the audience is made up of three groups of people: those who agree with you; those who disagree with you; and those who are still unsure of their own stance on the topic. Always remember that you are attempting to build discourse—to build a communication bridge that moves the conversation on the topic forward.
- Avoid language that alienates your audience. Remember: Your audience is a group of people who both agree and disagree with you. Alienating those who disagree with you shuts down communication. Some phrases to avoid: “Everyone knows” (Do they?) “You should believe” (Why shouldn’t I?) “If you believe X you are…” (“Well, then I’m not going to continue reading”) “The only logical answer is…” (Is it? Really?).
Support your voice
Once you have established your voice, be clear about WHY you believe what you do:
- Where is your stance rooted? In your profession? In your personal experience? In what you’ve learned by reading or in school? Decide where your opinion comes from.
- Consider where else you need to look for help in substantiating your opinion. Do you need to read articles that present different ideas about the topic? Do you need to review a textbook or other learning material? Can you effectively draw on personal experience in a relevant and thoughtful way?
The root of expressing an opinion in an effective way-—so that you will be heard—is to ground that opinion in sound reasoning and clear, thoughtful detail.
Consider the opposition
Your opinion and the way you support it do not exist in a vacuum. When forming your opinion about a topic, it is crucial to consider the voices that stand in opposition to your own.
Carefully consider at least one opposing viewpoint as you craft your own opinion. Decide how, and with what resources, you will support your opinion against this opposing viewpoint.
When you take the time to think about opposing voices, you realize three key benefits:
- You reaffirm your opinion in your own mind.
- You strengthen the support for your own voice by thinking ahead to what dissenting voices may say against your opinion.
- You can more effectively refute an opposing viewpoint when it comes your way because you’ve thought through your opinion critically and thoroughly.
By working through this process, you grow as a writer and as a critical thinker.
Although the prospect of presenting your voice publicly can feel daunting, remember that our society moves forward through constructive, sometimes difficult, discourse. Your thoughtful and reasoned participation in this discourse is, ultimately, a win-win situation because it moves the public discourse forward. This process not only benefits you personally—your voice is valuable!—but also those who read, comment on, accept, and even refute your opinion.
[An earlier version of this article ran in the MindEdge Learning Workshop Blog on October 5, 2018.]
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