How to write opinionated content

In a few weeks, I’m joining a discussion on how to write about your work. When canvassing questions for the the discussion, a peer asked whether I had any advice for writing opinionated content (citing examples from Benn and Pedram — go follow them, I’ll wait!).

At first, I didn’t feel like I was the best person to answer this — after all, I am more well known for my technical content than my hot takes (52k page views on an article about code structure!). But, I can write opinionated content if I set my mind to it, and one of my big beliefs is that it’s better to learn how to do something from someone who struggled with the task, rather than the person to whom the task came naturally.

So here’s my opinionated take on being opinionated in your writing:

Write what’s obvious to you.

When you start out, this is probably going to look more like technical content — the things that you learned and now want to teach someone else, like how to write a particular piece of code.

Then, surround yourself with content that pushes your own thinking further, until you push yourself further up the early adopter curve. Now, what’s obvious to you, is not obvious to everyone in your industry. Repeat the process of writing those obvious things, and over time, you’ll end up writing opinionated (but helpful!) content.

In particular, keep an eye out for:

  • content that feel painfully obvious now, but that you got wrong when you started out (or that you wish existed when you started out).
  • questions that you get more than once (especially those that you’re surprised people ask you)!

When you’re writing like this, there’s a very good chance you’ll look at your content and think “no one needs to hear this, it’s so obvious” — ignore that voice, and hit publish anyway. You might be right, but you might also end up having a hit tweet on your hands.

Don’t write with the goal of being opinionated.

If you do this, you’ll likely come off as a contrarian¹. And, even worse (but in the same vein), if you set out to be a Thought Leader, you might end up sounding like a douchebag.

And you know what? All of what I just wrote feels really obvious to me 😉.

¹If you search back far enough on some forums, you’ll find places where I was intentionally trying to be contrarian / a bit of a smart alec. I stopped doing this for two reasons: (1) I chose to adopt a personal brand that was more “helpful but opinionated” than “contrarian”, and (2) the reality is that as a woman in tech, I get far less leeway when it comes to being anything less than perfectly nice. It sucks but it’s true.