Welcome to Week 2 of the Controversed series! For those of you who are new to it, Controversed is an ongoing workshop on criticism held on my blog and on Jon Spencer‘s Discord server. For detailed instructions on how to participate, check out my first post on it!
It was really awesome to see some of you dive into it already, so thank you to those of you who already wrote something for Week 1! To clarify, since I received a couple of questions about this, you only need to write a minimum of one post for your participation to be counted, and that post can be written any time in the month (before Nov. 29), in response to a prompt from any week!
A reminder again that Jon’s Discord server is open for anyone who would like to immerse in the workshop alongside other bloggers on that platform, though Discord participation is certainly not required for anyone who just wants to write posts.
For Week 2, we’ll be critiquing our own critical voices. The term “criticism” gets a bad rap for being negative, pedantic, or unwarranted. Of course I chose a controversial word as the topic this week! By the way, I forgot to ask this question last week, but how do you pronounce “controversy”? Do you say “CON-troversy,” like me, or “con-TRO-versy,” just to be controversial? Do let me know later.
But first, the notion of criticism. The English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Foundation (yeah, it’s my first time hearing about them too) defines “critical writing” as “writing which analyses and evaluates information, usually from multiple sources, in order to develop an argument” (EAP). I think that begs the question as to what exactly an “argument” is, but even without delving into definitions, it should be fair to say that all of us who are here to discuss anime, manga, or whatever your blog’s theme is are doing so from a critical perspective. Even an assessment based on feelings and personal factors is still an evaluation, and the written product of this assessment delivers an argument of sorts.
“Your argument is invalid” sure is a way to shut down a debate. Are some criticisms more valid than others? This may be too prescriptive of a way to look at things, but certain approaches to criticism are potentially more effective and constructive than others in their given contexts.
So what is your context, and what is your voice?
This probably isn’t your first year of high school (if it is, yay!), so I won’t test your patience with “what is a summary vs. an analysis?” Perhaps there are other questions that you might contemplate. How do you do a subject justice in your analysis, regardless of whether you’re praising or denouncing it? How do you want your audience to interact with your post, and how do you write in order to achieve that?
I don’t have a checklist for blogging, but I do have a checklist pinned to my wall that I relied on throughout my English degree. It’s specifically tailored to my writing and nobody else’s, but here it is as an example:
- Check preposition use constantly. This is first on the list because it’s the easiest to deal with, and because English isn’t my native language and I once had a tough time with prepositions. Good grammar does make an argument more convincing!
- Use the most concise phrasing possible. Let every sentence exist for a unique purpose. Sounds like another petty thing, but cutting down on excess text not only helps retain your audience’s short attention span, but helps you get a tidier picture of your argument. Does this cool adjective mean practically the same thing as the other one you used in the same sentence? If so, maybe save it for another time.
- Leave no ambiguities. It’s easy to be wishy-washy (hey, that’s in my blog’s tagline!), especially with controversial subjects, but go big or go home! If you’re not saying what you mean, there’s little point in saying it at all. Much of the time though, ambiguities in writing are accidents, so it always helps to remind yourself fairly often.
- Never assume. Never assume that your audience knows what you’re saying, that what you’re saying is a widely accepted truth, or that truth exists at all… Master this and you might be a great critical writer, if you don’t mind the side effect of paralyzing paranoia and self-doubt.
- Stick through with topics and headings. Don’t get sidetracked, because coherence and consistency matter!
- A perfect intro makes a good essay. No, not because first impressions are everything, but because if you’ve found a way to capture your audience’s attention and also know the gist of what you’re talking about, there’s a good chance that the execution of your ideas is going to be decent too (if you follow #5 well). Note: a “perfect” intro makes a “good” essay, not a “perfect” one.
- Ice cream clears the mind. It’s just true.
Writing advice is one of those things that are constantly given but rarely ever taken. That’s why this list isn’t a be-all and end-all for anyone other than myself (I left space for new points to be added, but that need never arose!). You have different purposes, values, and audiences than I did during my undergrad degree, so your list would probably look vastly different.
As you can tell, concision and balance are two qualities that I find more important than others, because they give a piece of writing elegance and nuance. I obviously don’t care as much on my blog, but I do think with the same general mindset, especially when it comes to keeping the word count down and reflecting on assumptions!
Week 2 Prompts
- Make your own critical writing checklist, or checklist for tackling controversial topics! What is your writing/blogging voice, based on it?
- Nobody is (or should be) objective, but how biased do you think you are? What are some biases in your writing, and how do you try to challenge them?
- When discussing subjects that are difficult or controversial, how do you strike a balance between presenting a fair picture of the issue and staying true to your views? Has your view ever changed as you wrote?
- The geek problem: how do you reach the depth that you want to discuss in your writing without alienating your audience?
These are all questions that I’m seriously curious about, so I really look forward to this week! If you have other criticism-related topics you wish to delve into, feel free to do so. Just let me know before you use the #Controversed hashtag! To respond, all you have to do is to choose a prompt and write something of any length, link to this post, and hashtag your work with #Controversed if you’re on Twitter. It’s also not too late at all to respond to Week 1’s prompts, which you can find here.
My humble thanks to you for reading and for your interest in this workshop. I’ll see you in the comments if you need anything from me!