Far too often, advocates of liberty fail to make effective arguments in their writing. As Alexander McCobin discussed in a previous post, libertarians often forget that “When trying to persuade others to believe in liberty, the way we present arguments is as important as the substance of the arguments themselves.” This can be especially problematic when we write articles, blogs, and class papers, that will be read by those who do not share our views. Here are some tips on how to improve your writing and better advocate for liberty:
1. Never Assume
Do not assume that your readers will have the same background knowledge or make the same connections that you do. Assumptions can easily lead to your argument being misunderstood or ignored. They can be especially problematic when you assume that your readers see an issue as a problem, but they don’t, which can completely undermine your entire argument. My Young Americans for Liberty chapter ran into this problem when tabling about Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) abuses of civil liberties. We repeatedly found ourselves having to explain what the TSA was, rather than focusing on why it was a problem.
2. Avoid Jargon like the Plague
Not only does jargon assume that your readers have some technical knowledge, it can also come across as pretentious and insincere. In the first case, jargon can confuse a general audience and undermine your argument through a lack of clarity. In the second case, it can cause your readers to dismiss the argument based on the tone of the piece. If jargon is unavoidable, make sure you explain the term used.
3. Citation, Citation, Citation
Make sure you cite your sources, especially when dealing with anything that wouldn’t be common knowledge to a general audience. When publishing online, this is as simple as putting in a hyperlink to a reputable source (Wikipedia does not count). When writing for class or more formal settings, it can be as easy as putting in an extra footnote. Either way, citations help back up your argument and encourage your readers to take you more seriously. They show that you aren’t making things up out of thin air and that liberty is a valid topic to write about. They can also point your readers to other authors who may have made an argument in more detail than you can, or who may be more eloquent and experienced.
4. Spellcheck is Your Friend, But Not Your Only Friend
Though spellcheck is a great tool, it is not the only editing your piece needs before it is submitted to a professor or published online. It catches some spelling and grammar errors but often misses improperly used words or awkwardly structured sentences. One way to catch these is to set your piece aside, do something else, and then reread it later. Often times, this will allow you to catch errors that you may have missed in an initial read-through or spellcheck of your piece.
5. Find an Editor (Preferably Someone Who Isn’t a Libertarian)
Another great way to catch errors and ensure that your arguments make sense to a general audience is to enlist a friend or family member as an editor. This person does not have to be pro-liberty, nor do they have to be an expert in the topic your piece addresses. In fact, it may be better if they aren’t so as to ensure that your arguments make sense to a general audience.
6. Mind Your Manners
Keep your writing civil. While you can, and should, critique other ideas, make sure that you aren’t being needlessly aggressive or making personal attacks. This can be very off-putting to your readers, especially if they don’t necessarily agree with you. It may even backfire and encourage your readers to support your opponents.
7. Keep It Concise
Get to your point quickly and keep your arguments concise. You aren’t writing a novel, you’re trying to make a point and back it up. This is especially important when publishing online. No one wants to read a manifesto, and the longer your piece, the less likely your readers are to actually finish it. Keeping your writing concise will help ensure that your entire argument is read and less likely that it will be misconstrued.
While this list is not comprehensive, it should give you a good start of rules to ftollow when writing for liberty.