How to write an opinion piece that matters

Everybody’s got them – opinions that is. So how hard can it be to write an opinion piece? After all, a blog is like a mini opinion piece and anyone can write a blog, can’t they?

They can: but there is no guarantee that anyone will read it.

The opinion piece requires more than just a rant. To be effective, an opinion piece needs to be a considered argument backed by facts.

 It needs to be well written and have a clear point.

More than ever, you need to keep your reader on your shoulder. It’s helpful to ask yourself, “Who cares?” and “So what?” as you write, to ensure that you remain accountable, relevant and interesting.

Not everyone will agree with you, but follow these tips and at the very least they will respect you:

Be topical

Find a topical peg or hook to kick off your story. Opinion pieces work best when they are tied to a topical issue. This gives them currency and immediacy.

The best opinion pieces initiate and further debate on an issue that is topical or raise awareness of an issue that is of public interest and which may not be well known.

Be relevant

Target your story to the right audience. This means understanding the demographic you are writing for.  Who is the publication pitching to? What are their concerns? Study past issues so that you don’t repeat old topics and to ensure you remain relevant.

Be an expert – or interview one

Establish your expertise. If you are the expert, make sure you include your credentials.

If not, find experts with whom you can discuss the topic, and who are willing to be quoted.  Many university websites have great “find an expert” services.

Ensure that you check the names and titles of anyone you are quoting and spell them correctly.

Be informed

Back up your argument with facts from reliable, credible and up-to-date sources. Your expert will be just one of them. Don’t clog your story with statistics, but make sure you have something solid to back up your claims.  Check the sources of all websites.

Be clear about the point you are making

Don’t try to say too much. Your story should have a clear point that can be summed up in a headline. Don’t waffle. It can help to write the headline first.

Don’t get personal or risk defamation

If you are responding to someone else’s opinion, remain professional and don’t get personal. Respond to their argument and leave it at that. 

There are strict rules about defamation in Australia, and these must be observed for your own safety and that of your publication.

However, if your story is true and you can prove it, and is in the public interest, you may have a defence.  If in doubt you must always seek legal advice before you publish. If you are contributing to a magazine or newspaper, they will have lawyers they can consult.

Be clear

Write in plain, but not boring, English.  Use lively language and humour where appropriate and vary your sentence structure. Remember your ABCs – accuracy, brevity and clarity. 

Use persuasive language and address the reader directly (you) or collectively (we), if appropriate.

Be entertaining

You will be competing with many other opinions. Be entertaining, as well as informative, and never be pompous.

Don’t respond to trolls

This is personal issue, but my view is that unless someone writes to you directly, general comments are best ignored. You’ve had your say. Let others now have their say in response and leave it at that.

Offensive feedback should simply be deleted. Never engage in debate with offensive commentators. If you receive comment that is defamatory or threatening, the website moderator should alert you.