The following was originally posted on the Unmemorable Title WordPress Blog on April 6th, 2009
When it comes to knowing just how left-wing politics have eroded the moral fibre of a nation, or when you really need to know which group of foreigners are out to ruin your life, you really can’t beat the Daily Mail. But this showcase of demented drivelling has something to teach writers – just how to write a truly terrible piece. Take a look at this piece of sputum on a bunch of villagers running Google’s streetview car out of town.
1: Ludicrous Titles
A good headline is a key weapon in any writer’s arsenal. A good title should reel in the reader. By asking a question or setting up an intriguing scenario, you’ll appeal to a reader’s natural curiosity. A well thought out title will act as a springboard for your article. A bad title can alienate readers before they even know what your argument is. However, a ludicrous, hyperbole-riddled overstatement of a title will make you appear desperate. Describing a handful of small-minded rural types shouting at a car as an “English Revolt” seeing off a crack brigade of “Google Spies” is about as ludicrous as you can get.
2: Underwhelming Evidence
The first trick any persuasive writer learns is the “rule of three”. Using three pieces of compelling evidence lends weight to your argument. Using two weak examples makes your pitch look woefully underpowered. Weak examples like claiming a freedom fighter is big news in “Norway and Turkey”. Really? Both?
3: Wild Accusations Make You Look Foolish
When you’re writing for an audience who wear their predjudices on their sleeves, it can be incredibly tempting to whip them up into a fervour to generate a response. However, this runs the risk of alienating any new readers. For example, when the majority of your informed casual readership are excited about 3d maps, labelling it an “encyclopedia for the burglaring fraternity” makes you look like a reactionary luddite.
4: Monitor Your Comments
Not strictly a writing tip, but when you write a piece designed to generate debate and comment, keep an eye on your readership. If you’re cultivating a reputation as an intelligent and articulate blogger, the last thing you need is ill-thought out rants colouring people’s views of your content. However, if you’re a purveyor of emergency toilet paper, feel free to let Angry of Mansfield claim that a photo album is “a national security risk.”
Since this was written The Mail hasn’t learned any lessons whatsoever, and continues to be perhaps Britain’s most unintentionally hilarious right-wing rag. If you think The Express is worse, let me know!