In our last post we looked at the qualities of being open and being credible. Today concludes the final two qualities of being an influential writer.
Five Qualities of an Influential Writer
- Be Credible
As a writer you have something you want to share with others, and it’s important that you do this honestly and with integrity. Plus, if you’re not credible in what you have to say you will struggle to keep your audience. This involves avoiding logical fallacies such as the ‘Strawman’ – Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack (more can be found here: yourlogicalfallacyis.com/pdf/LogicalFallaciesInfographic_A3.pdf). Also, don’t make claims without backing them up. Obviously this doesn’t apply to widely accepted facts like ‘Jesus was born in Bethlehem’, but lesser known or more debated claims. When you do this, don’t just find a quote that agrees with you. This is like the preacher who wants to preach a works based Gospel and misrepresents a verse in James to back it up. Do the research, weigh the evidence, form an opinion, then present.
And backing up that opinion should be done with reliable and relevant sources, of which scripture should be first and foremost. Other sources known as ‘primary’ sources should also be used. For example, if you want to say something about the early church, use quotes from the Early Church Fathers more than modern quotes in history books (these are ‘secondary’ sources). Also, Wikipedia is good place to start your research as it helps you understand basic facts, themes, ideas, debates etc… but don’t claim it as a reference; look at the footnotes and go look at and use those. The same can be said about preachers: a quote from a political scientist on socialism is more reliable than one from John Piper. Subject matter experts are a good source too, but they aren’t infallible so don’t be afraid to disagree (see below in Be Professional), but be prepared to back it up. And it’s important to include some kind of reference so that your readers can easily go and read further on what you’ve written and shows that you haven’t just made it up. And referencing should be suitable to your platform. In a blog, you might want to include the authors surname and page number in brackets in the text and a more detailed reference in the bibliography. In a devotional, you might just have a bibliography or a list of suggested ‘further reading’. As I wrote above in ‘be inspired’, check out similar works and see what others have done. The specific style’s not overly important, just find something that works and use that.
The use of quotes differs from platform to platform and according to personal preference. If I could make a suggestion, and this is just my opinion, try and keep them to a minimum. If I’m reading YOUR work, I’m more interested in what YOU think, what YOU believe, and what YOU have to say in that instance than what Martin Luther or Matt Chandler have to say. And if you do quote them, I’m interested in what you think about that quote. I think there are only really two times when you should quote someone (again, my personal preference) and they are 1. To support claims that someone said something or holds to a particular position. and 2. When someone says what you want to say based on your research better than you. The same principles of referencing apply here too.
- Be Professional
As with everything we do for God, we should pursue excellence (Col 3:17). This is not about perfection, but striving to become the best we can. And not just for the glory of God, but to provide your reader with something they will understand better and enjoy more. And there are a number of ways we can improve the quality of our writing, and the best is practice; so just start writing! Start a blog; there are many groups who host free blogging accounts. I use blogger.com because I find it easier and more customizable, but look around until you find one that you like. And when you write, self and peer critique your work. Go back after a few weeks and re-read what you have written as well as get others to give you feedback on your work. Once you feel comfortable find extra opportunities to write, such as for your church’s newsletter. And if you want to really develop your writing, you can do some academic study on writing. UQ hosts a free on-line course (https://www.edx.org/course/english-grammar-style-uqx-write101x-0) that I took by contact and found it incredibly rewarding and helpful.
Being professional also considers the flow of your writing. Like a sermon, it should flow in a logical progression towards a conclusion which helps give clarity to your reader. There are a number of ways that you can structure your writing. There’s the classic state your point up front and proceed to demonstrate why it’s correct. Or you might want to start with a question and make your writing a ‘journey to an answer’ (almost like a more refined transcript of your research). If it’s a ‘how to’, you may need to make it a logical sept by step, e.g. don’t tell them to spread the peanut butter before you tell them to open the lid. But ultimately, you need to find a style that you like which is suitable to your content and platform (see Be Inspired). You can also build clarity by when you begin to write, work out your ‘big idea’ and if what you’re saying doesn’t directly contribute to explaining, demonstrating, or proving your big idea: it’s waffle – cut it and keep it for another day.
If your writing is engaging with a debated topic, it’s important that you show respect for those who hold to alternate views, especially if it’s a fellow Christian regarding a secondary matter, by acknowledging these opposing views in an accurate and non-derogatory manner. Also, find and affirm points of agreement where possible. Now, when it comes to false-teachers and heretics, don’t be afraid to call them as such. And like Jesus and Paul, you should be mad at those who pervert the truth and lead God’s people astray, especially in regards to the Gospel. Scripture, humility, and love should be your guide in this matter.
I hope that this has been both encouraging and helpful to you who have an interest in writing. Jesus calls all His people to be involved in discipleship and has given everyone something to say by the passions he inspires within us, the experiences He places before us, and the gifts He has given us. And writing is one way that the Lord may have us influence others. You may not become a best-selling author, but perhaps that one person who reads your obscure blog-post will. Your words can influence more than you think.
– Ryan Watson has been a pastor and writes a theological blog titled Berean Baptists.