My title is a bit misleading.
It suggests that there is more than one way to keep from offending your readers. Amazingly enough, there really is only one way to keep from offending 100% of your readers.
Yeah, sigh. That’s the trick.
The truth is that anything you write will offend someone. It won’t matter how good your intentions are… it won’t matter how careful you are with your craft, for one reason or another what you write is bound to offend some readers.
On the other hand, the quickest way to be sure to offend is to use humor. Humor is subjective, and is easily the quickest way to alienate your audience. But wait, you say, what about people like Dave Barry, and the late Douglas Adams? They are funny, and they don’t offend me. Yep. They don’t offend you. Trust me, reader, there are people who find their brand of humor insulting, childish, predictable and… oh, yeah. Offensive. This is why a “golden rule” for writers doesn’t work. Can you imagine believing “write unto others as you would be written unto“?
Email and texting have taught us how easy it is to misunderstand the printed word. “Smilies” were designed to take the sting out of words which were not accompanied by facial expressions or tones of voice.
It is sad. There seems to be no real lingua franca when it comes to writing. There is only an approximation, a “best intentions” attempt at communications. And as we have all seen, best intentions make excellent paving blocks, but they don’t serve very well for much else.
So, what do we do?
We write on. We do our best. We write with the sure knowledge that a percentage of readers will get what we say, and get it without finding personal insult in it, and we can but hope that those who are offended are never so much offended that they stop reading all together.
Chances are that this piece will offend some readers.