At all academic levels, you will sometimes have to write essays and other papers about highly divisive issues. Many topics are associated with a number of very strong opinions, sometimes diametrically opposing each other. You yourself are likely to have a specific point of view when dealing with them, and tempers may be running quite high during discussions. In such situations, it is not enough to write persuasively. You have to proceed with caution and follow certain rules. In this article, we will cover the most important principles you should stick to when writing about sensitive and divisive issues.

1. Stay Truthful

Sticking to the facts is crucial in any kind of writing, but especially so when you write about potentially inflammatory topics. If you make an untrue statement or keep something unsaid when writing about something neutral, you can be accused of inattention or incompetence. If you do the same when writing about a divisive issue, you could be accused of intentionally lying and promoting your point of view via dishonest means, even if you do it unintentionally.

2. Set a Goal

When you write about a sensitive issue, you are likely to deal with readers who already have strong opinions on the subject. For your writing to have any effect, you have to set a clear goal before you start. What do you want to do? Do you want to inspire those who already agree with you? Do you want to try and make those who disagree with you change their minds? Do you intend to influence those who are still on the fence and do not have clear-cut views? Depending on your goal, you should approach your task differently.

3. Keep Focused

In a sense, this rule flows from the previous one. When you write about something that stirs powerful emotions in you, you can be tempted to cram too much information, arguments, statistics, opinions, and examples into your writing. This will spread your writing thin, steering you away from your goal. Instead, always keep in mind what you are writing for and stick to this decision. Only include what is absolutely necessary to drive your point across.

4. Offend with Purpose

Do not be afraid of offending — ‘inoffensive’ is about the worst thing you can say about a piece of argumentative writing. When you write something like an essay on drugs, you are bound to say something that will annoy somebody, and you should not try to neuter your speech out of fear of stepping on someone’s toes. However, there is offence and offence. It is one thing to measuredly say something that can make somebody angry; it is something completely different to unintentionally blurt out something offensive.

5. Get a Second (and a Third, and a Fourth) Opinion

When we write about things that cause strong emotions in ourselves, it is very easy to perceive our own viewpoint as self-evident. You never know how people with different points of view are going to see your words, and their reactions can be completely unexpected. Therefore, it is a good idea to show your essay to other people (preferably those whom you know to have an opinion different from your own) and ask them what they think. Do your arguments look convincing to them? Have you missed something? Have you used enough sources of information?

6. Do not Use Hyperbole

When you feel strongly about something, it is all too easy to start using overly emotional, overblown, and otherwise extreme language. While it may feel like you’ve made your point stronger and more impressive, in the end, it devalues your argument. The reader may feel like they are being screamed at from the page; and, of course, extreme language often masks the weakness of the original argument. There is nothing wrong with feeling strong emotions about the subject matter of your writing and making your feelings obvious, but everything is good in moderation.

7. Do not Tell the Readers What They Should Think

It is easy to say something like ‘This policy/idea/social norm is horrible/amazing, and everybody who thinks otherwise should have his/her head examined’. It is much harder (yet more effective) to provide enough arguments, statistics, and evidence to lead the readers to the right conclusions. Do not tell the readers what they should think. Give them the information they need to decide for themselves and make it so that it is simply impossible to make any other conclusion based on what you said.

Essays and other papers on sensitive and divisive topics always attract a great deal of attention, which means that you should be particularly careful when writing them.

We hope that the tips we have listed here will be helpful in your academic journey!