Editorial Writing: How to Argue with Anyone—and Win!

As everyone knows, writers are full of “messages” that need to be conveyed to readers, so that readers can go around and pass these messages to their friends. If enough of a writer’s messages get through, the thinking goes, the pointless drudgery of human existence will at least have an explanation. And when you feel the vast, dark emptiness of the cosmos closing in on you, crushing your hopes and dreams, nothing is more comforting than a rational, well-written justification for your despair.

Fiction isn’t always the best way for a writer to send messages, however. Sometimes messages need to be more direct, which is why the newspaper editorial page was invented.

Newspaper editorials give writers of all kinds the chance to express their opinions in a form that lands on people’s porches early in the morning. And because most people read editorials while they’re still half asleep, they are an ideal vehicle for ideas that require a certain lack of skepticism from the general public.  

In order to write an editorial, however, one must have an opinion. And in order to have an opinion, one must be able to use what little one knows about any given subject and make it appear as if they know everything about it. This isn’t difficult. You just have to have the courage of your convictions, and know a few tricks of the trade.

The first thing any editorial writer must do is choose a topic. It could be anything. But if you can’t come up with an idea on your own, simply find an editorial someone else has written and argue the opposite. This is known as the “devil’s advocate” approach, because the devil has trouble coming up with good ideas, too.

As an example, let’s choose the favorite subject of newspaper editors everywhere: climate change. Suppose the article you want to rebut, or argue against, is one that denounces climate-change deniers as a bunch of scientific illiterates who wouldn’t know a data set from a tea set. Let’s say the article you are arguing against claims that 99.9 percent of all scientists agree that humans are cooking themselves by spewing heat-trapping gunk into the atmosphere, and furthermore, if you don’t believe climate change is real, you are a colossal moron.

At first glance, arguing against this type of article might seem difficult and foolish, because they have facts and science on their side, not to mention the moral high ground. But refuting an argument like this is really quite easy, if you know how.

First, you have to shift the playing field in your favor. The core of the issue is whether climate change is “real” or not, so all you have to do is question the nature of “reality.” So what if 99.9 percent of all scientists agree that global warming is real? Maybe they’re not real scientists, you could argue. Or maybe they’re not real people at all. Maybe the editorial writer made them up to prove his point. Where are these so-called scientists, after all? If we can’t see them, how can we be sure they exist?

Having called the reality of so-called “reputable” scientists into question, you could then attack their facts with some facts of your own. For instance, quantum physics tells us that there isn’t just one universe; there are really billions of universes unfolding at the same time all around us. This means that everything that can happen is happening, or will happen, in a parallel universe somewhere. All you have to do is explain that, using principles of quantum mechanics they couldn’t possibly understand, you are borrowing information on climate change from a parallel universe and using it in this universe. Furthermore, you could argue, Einstein proved that space and time can bend, so you are pretty sure you are using data from the future—data that says global warming is complete and utter bullshit.

That’s just science.

If basing your argument on scientific fact is too much trouble, another option is to make up your own facts. For instance, you could say, “Did you know that 87.2 percent of the people who believe in climate change are godless atheists?” Citing an actual number gives your argument weight it wouldn’t otherwise have, and making things up out of thin air has the added advantage of being difficult to fact-check. It might only take you a few seconds to make up a fact, but it could take a college intern a week or two to verify it. Throw in a few more “facts” like that, and you could tie up a fact-checker for a month or two. The math is in your favor, so the more facts you make up, the farther ahead you’ll be.

Another tactic editorial writers use is arguing from emotion rather than reason. The key to arguing with emotion is liberal use of the “caps lock” key, SO IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING EVERYTHING!!! You’re not, you’re just typing, but the reader doesn’t know that; they think you’re really SHOUTING AT THEM! If you need to shout louder, use BOLD CAPS and an extra exclamation point (!!), and if you really need to get into people’s faces, use BOLD CAPS AND ITALICS, WITH TWO OR THREE EXTRA EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!

The only problem with arguing from emotion is that for it to work, you really do have to care. Unfortunately, caring deeply about a subject is something most writers are ill-equipped to do. Feelings cloud a person’s judgment, causing them to think that the roiling ball of fire in their chest is more important than the cool head of reason on their shoulders. Before you know it, feelers have that “caps lock” key clamped down permanently and won’t stop typing until the rest of the world knows how HURT and OUTRAGED they are by the INJUSTICE of it all—and, by inference, what AMAZING people they are for CARING so much. Most writers are incapable of caring that much, which is why they only capitalize the first letter of every sentence.

So far, we’ve only discussed how professional writers approach the editorial page. When it comes to writing editorials in the the local paper, however, there are times when non-writers want to participate in the public discourse of their community as well. Non-writers are often insecure about their ability to compose a cogent argument in print, but that shouldn’t stop them from trying. In fact, there is an easy way around the whole “I can’t write” problem.

For example, many non-writers shout their opinions at the television set in the mistaken belief that the little people inside the rectangle can hear them. (This may have been true back in the days when televisions were attached to so-called “rabbit ears,” but televisions nowadays do not have ears, so yelling at them is pointless.) Instead, try yelling at the television and recording your rant with a digital audio recorder. Then transcribe whatever you shout, print it out, and send it to your friendly local newspaper editor, who will be delighted to have thoughtful “input” from the “community.”

If an editorial you have written ends up in the paper or online, be forewarned that some people might disagree with your opinion and write their own editorial in response to yours. But that’s okay. It’s great, in fact, because it means you have written something so powerful that it motivated another human being to hate you. This is what people mean when they say the public needs to have a “conversation” about important issues.

Remember, disagreeing with other people’s opinions is a cornerstone of American democracy, and the more people who disagree with you, the better. Why? Because the more people who hate your guts, the more likely it is that God is on your side. And when God is on your side, there’s nothing you can’t make people believe.