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If inflammatory language is used, it should have a purpose

By Scott Tibbs, September 19, 2014

I got some legitimate criticism over the weekend in response to my editorial about due process in college sexual assault investigations for using the term "Obama regime" instead of referring to the "Obama administration."

We all hate to admit it when we are wrong, but I was wrong and my critic is right. I am not convincing anyone by using the inflammatory word "regime" and my argument about due process would be stronger without it. Using that inflammatory word does not help me convince anyone of why my position is right, and the discussion in the comments can get derailed into something unrelated to the issue.

And, really, I knew better than to use the word "regime." By using the word "regime," I did not strengthen my argument. I only provided a distraction from it.

I have been writing editorials, blog posts and letters to the editor (not to mention commenting on blogs, forums and newspaper comment sections) for nearly twenty years now. This is a continuing lesson for me as well as a lesson for everyone else who writes opinion pieces: Do not be inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory. You undermine your argument, harden the opposition and make civil discussion more difficult.

Sometimes, the language a writer uses on hot button issues is going to be inflammatory by the very nature of the issue itself. Other times, an inflammatory word might be necessary to drive home a point, because a softer word will not make the point as well as the more inflammatory word. But I can and should do better in my choice of language.