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7 Tips for Writing About Politics (…When You’re Not a Political Writer)

This guest post on writing about politics is by Allen McDuffee governmentality.

While it’s an exciting time to write about politics, bloggers who ordinarily don’t write about politics can easily be intimidated by just the thought of it. Can I write authoritatively about the subject? Do I know all sides of the issue? What if my readers know more about the subject than I do? What if I don’t have all the facts?

There certainly are some risks involved but if you get it right, the potential rewards can range from sparking a heated debate to informing your readers about something important to testing the waters on going a little off the beaten path in the future.

These 7 tips can help avert disaster and build your confidence to write on politics.

1) Keep it simple and stay focused. It’s easy to get caught up in every detail about a particular issue, especially if this is one of your only political posts and you feel like you need to get it all out. Do your best to simplify the post as much as possible. If your readers are interested, you can always tease out some of the nuances in the comments section. Or, if there is real interest, you can write follow-up posts.

Think about your organizing principal. Are you writing about an organization, an issue, a law, a policy, a budget…Or has your mayor gone just too far and it’s time to let him or her have it? Whichever it is, the best thing you can do is focus on that primary subject. Focus on the exact reason the issue is important to your readers, who the key players are, and what the potential outcome is. Once you’re done, edit away anything that isn’t necessary—this is precisely the time good editing skills come in the handiest.

2) Keep writing in your voice. When you’re out of your comfort zone, it’s really easy to take on the voice of the subject matter rather than you’re own. Fight this the best you can—your readers notice! On more than one occasion when I’ve written about subjects that I knew would be important to my readers but weren’t exactly comfortable, I received reader emails asking if somebody else wrote the post or why I was dispassionate (unfortunately, politics writing has a higher propensity for getting boring). Work hard to make it your own and what your readers are used to seeing from you stylistically. Again, editing comes in very handy here and this might be the time to put yourself back into your post.

3) Make sure your audience knows why it’s relevant to them right away. This is good advice for any post, but more than ever your first line or two need to be carefully crafted. If readers aren’t used to seeing politics posts on your blog, you should help them understand why it’s there. And right away! Try tying it into a previous post you’ve written. Or express outrage that your readers would likely share. If they don’t get why it’s for them right away, you run the risk of them skipping it. Or worse: they’ll think you’re shifting focus and that it’s not “their” blog anymore.

4) Get an official statement. This sounds daunting, but you don’t always have to call a press officer to get one. Almost every governmental agency posts dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of press releases on their website each week. If you write about technology, look at the FCC website. If you’re writing a post about your city’s school system, look at the Department of Education website. You don’t have to agree with the statement, but using it lends credibility to your post and your readers will know exactly what you’re standing for (or against), officially.

5) Use video to launch your argument. Sometimes all the background knowledge required to write a good politics post can scare bloggers with otherwise good ideas away. Let seasoned reporters take that pressure off of you. News agencies like Reuters [http://www.reuters.com/news/video] provide fairly well balanced reporting pieces in video that you can embed in your post. You can always add a line or two to cover a part of the story they left out. Now you have the reporting foundation to carry out your viewpoint.

6) Use a picture to spruce up your post. The great thing about writing on political issues is that you can use photographs from governmental websites on your blog because you’ve already paid for them in taxes. Not only does it dress up your post, but it also connects a name with a face. There are lots of times your readers will know who somebody is from television or the newspaper, but can’t remember their name–a picture would be a good reminder and adds another level of why the post is relevant to them.

7) Check to see if you’ve reached the outcome you wanted.

  • Was it your intention to be strictly informative? If so, did you give as much information as possible with links to resources?
  • Were you calling people to political action or some type of advocacy? If so, was it clear what position you were advocating and what you hope your readers will do?
  • Or are you just trying to open up a true debate on a topic your community faces? If so, what have you outlined the tough questions?

These tips might not make you Andrew Sullivan, but who wants to post every 90 seconds anyway?

Allen McDuffee writes on politics for places like The Nation, Mother Jones and New York Observer. Allen is currently working on a book project, No Child Left Unrecruited, and blogs at governmentality. He lives in Brooklyn.

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Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. GoTRENDS says:

    It’s interesting how many times, especially during the elections, that many bloggers gave their piece and how it affected them.

    Some I’m sure even polarized their audience and probably even lost a few.

    The thing I wished though is that they helped bring everything back to the purpose of their website and not just ramble on their political view.

  2. I would say that being biased is fine. Just don’t get in people’s faces. It is nearly impossible to not show some bias.

    Thanks,
    Nate

  3. Jamie Harrop says:

    Interesting topic, Allen. I’ve never wrote about politics on my blog, but there have been times where I’ve taken part in political debates on Internet forums. Like you mentioned, it’s easy to lose track, get too detailed, and lose your voice.

    I think the biggest thing you can do is shut yourself to other views and opinions. When writing on anything controversial, you should always be open minded and willing to accept the point of view of others.

    Jamie

  4. JOE GELB says:

    Great tips I will take them to heart.

  5. Gini says:

    Great tips! And great idea for an article, Political writing is tough. I don’t think I’ll ever do much of it, but if I do I’ll keep this article in mind,

  6. ITWOP says:

    Politics have found their way into my content over the past six months and I’ve found it important to write with passion, but still be factual. People hold very strong views right now, and can easily be turned off by yours. But its been my experience that if you keep it to the point and based on fact rather than a lunatic rant, even those on the other side of the fence will come back for more.

  7. My blog is about How to get traffic to your site and I don’t have to write politics but reading the article was interesting. Thank You Darren.
    ————————————-
    Mohammad Afaq
    Free Website Traffic

  8. I hate politics. MOST of them are hypocrites! Sorry to post this comment which is off the topic. Its just that… you know what I mean… Peace!

  9. Nancy says:

    Tip #3 is excellent.

    Great advice for any off-topic post, actually.

    I’ve been playing with the idea of publishing a few religion-related posts on my blog. I haven’t yet b/c I don’t want to alienate anyone..but once I get around to it, this is one tip I’ll definitely keep in mind; I want readers to immediately understand why I think religion is relevant to my “main” topic, so the post doesn’t become off-putting in any way.

    Thanks!

  10. When political events began here in Madagascar, I was rebuilding my blogs But choosed to ‘massively’ use Social Medias in order to let people and the world know what’s happening in this country, to push Malagasy people to Tweet and those not twittering to simply read. So I transformed the Madagascar room on FriendFeed ( http://friendfeed.com/rooms/madagascar ) and created http://twitter.com/MadagascarTweet .

    Because of these events (and other reasons), I didn’t open my new blogs and other websites as of today but I hope I’ll be able to do so soon. I’m an ‘old’ reader of ProBlogger, and am happy to see these great tips, looking forward for others with the same or similar topic.

    Bookmarked on Delicious ;)

    Thanks a lot,
    Best.

  11. Yeah being simple and stay focused is always good for a blogger. Thanks i like to write about politics but honestly i didn’t like politics it

  12. Seth says:

    I write frequently about politics in a number of my blogs. I love writing about politics because it forces you to take a side, have a voice and care about something for once. Too many are apathetic about everything but making money, but politics effects everything. Just look at the economy!

  13. TRecs says:

    I think something that can be drawn from this post is the importance of writing outside your so-called area of “expertise.” This cross-referencing of topics makes for original and interesting posts. For example, the ProBlogger post about saying fit while blogging covers health in a way that most blogs about blogging don’t.

  14. I’d like to add that anecdotal evidence rarely makes a logical argument. I find that type of evidence in a political post manipulative. Sticking to the facts to make your case (and your point) will help your credibility.

  15. Eddie Gear says:

    Politics and me are miles apart. This is something not for me..
    Hope other readers find it interesting.. I think this is a good post especially in this time of recession and a new president elected in the US. This make people want to mention about politics every now and then when something happens both good or bad. Good job on this post.

    Cheers,
    Eddie Gear

  16. well, im not into politics, kinda bored with it. lol, nice topic btw :)

  17. Whether you write about politics or anything else, I do not believe that one should be afraid to express him or her self. Politics is two sided, sometimes three or more sides. Take one, but speak the truth, do not slander people, even politicians, unnecessarily.

  18. Jacob says:

    Given the fact my site is a political commentary web publication, I write about politics often. The hardest part about it is getting over the fact that people are going to disagree with you. The second you throw opinion in there, people are going to disagree.

    If you’re looking to write a political news site, there should be no opinion. It should be the very simple:

    Who, what, where, when, why, and how? Answer those and that’s it. That’s the job of a reporter. However, if you like commentary, throw your opinion in and just back it up with fact.

    Otherwise…You’re like Rush Limbaugh.

  19. So in nutshell you should have all the basic which a blogger should have and to make it more attractive photos and videos are always there.

    Sounding really interesting and I am sure this will also help me to get better in my writing skill.

  20. Lee Ka Hoong says:

    Great tips! But in my country, blogger who voice out own opinions and writes about something bad about government, they will get punished or get in jail for weeks or months. Anyway, I got no interest to write about politic and my parents asked me not to write it, or else I got the chance to stay in jail for months. lol!

    Regards,
    Lee

  21. ITrush says:

    Hmm, haven’t tried it yet.. thinking of doing it, these tips should be great. Thanks

  22. Calvin says:

    Political blogs attract a lot of traffic – eg.Huffingtonpost, TPM, NPR, Politico, Dailykos

    But it also pretty difficult to monetize. I’d be interested to watch now on how you grow your governmentalityblog.

  23. Viraj Sawant says:

    Hi Darren , I had written a similar topic …on why its best to start a politics in today’s date

    http://www.new-web-business.com/start-politics-blog-abou/

  24. tim says:

    Good tips! Sometimes it seems like non-political bloggers should follow the “family reunion rule” and not talk about politics or religion. Well, my family is dysfunctional enough to talk about both!

    I tried a political post during the last elections:

    Car Salesmen and Politicians

  25. Great draftsmanship in this post. I am now considering writing on politics because of this post and its succinct presentation. Problogger has provided great resources for me. Thanks to the organization and all the participants, the comments are collectible as well.

  26. Tom Hanna says:

    The old rule in business is that you don’t discuss politics or religion; for blogs not focused on politics, just following that rule is far better advice than the otherwise good advice in this article. My first blog was a political one that I ran as a test of the software before going live using it to provide news on a business site, so I’m no stranger to writing about politics. Even so, I steer clear of including political opinion on my business sites. For a long time, I even hesitated to include a link to the political blog.

    I nearly stopped subscribing to a cooking blog that I really enjoy when the author gushed long and hard about a particular candidate in the last US election to the point of asking her readers to vote for him as a personal favor. (Does the fact that she was gushing give away which candidate it was?) I decided to stay on, but it left a bad taste in my mouth – usually not the result that a cook wants.

  27. Great tips, but I would think that political blogging is way too competitive especially for unknowns.

  28. appleblogger says:

    ehm. i guess too many political blogger todays. But i like them.

  29. Desh says:

    I really got attracted to this because I have two blogs – one generic (www.drishtikone.com) and one specifically on Indian politics (www.7rcr.com – 7 RCR is short for 7 Race course rd, the official residence of Indian Prime Minister). My writings on drishtikone.com have been pretty well received on topics about South Asian (India/Pakistan politics etc), but somehow it does not .. yet.. translate into money. :)

    Another thing I wanted to point out here is – that Blogging on politics has two specific tones, if you will: a Rant/Rave kind of partisan writing (which I found most common during the US Presidential writings – and is soem variation of Rush Limbaugh school of “journalism”, if you want to really cal journalism!) and the “NPR-like” sedate/balanced.

    It seems to me that the former (rant/rave) kind easily become more popular.. although it lacks substance and is hardly educative!

    So, if one wants to go ahead on politics blogging what style should one take? With “Sanity” in mind and with “Popularity” in mind?

    Any thoughts on that front from the author and others?

    -desh
    drishtikone.com

  30. Political blogs can be a bit challenging to write,especially if you have less interest in politics. but also for those into politics “political junks’ can surelly pump alot of content and creat a forest of articles.but with a desert of boring stuff to scare away visitors..sounds tough niche ah!
    The answer is yes and big NO…
    Political blogs attract millions of readers dairly even for those not into politics.simply for 3 reasons that most bloggers don’t know.

    1.KISS your content before posting..Sorry guys.when i say “kiss” I mean (keep It So Short) not long and boring
    2.make it attractive,with most current issues first and accompany it with relevant fotos this is very paramount.
    3.choose a compatable layout. ie one colomn or personal blog layout won’t work..

    hope you find this usefull guys,thanks

    Matutu Nyabange

    http://www.frogblogger.com

  31. Seth says:

    Writing about current events and politics can be really difficult. Thanks for the useful tips.