Menu

Writing 201: The Thoughtfully Considered Opinion Piece

Opinions: We’ve all got them. This week, we’ll be looking at some of the best ways to get your point of view across.

Welcome to Blogging U! This course isn't currently active, but you can learn more about what we offer and register for upcoming courses on the BU home page.

Remember, comments are closed on Blogging U. assignments. If you have a question, or want to share or chat, head to The Commons.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Everyone’s a critic”? It’s true. We’ve all got opinions, and blogging is the perfect medium for gathering our thoughts on a topic and voicing our opinions about it.

Opinion pieces help us put major news stories into context, or explain why everyone should avoid seeing that really terrible movie that’s premiering soon. Sometimes you need to go in-depth to make a point and provide a convincing argument to your readers. A thoughtfully considered opinion piece will help you do that.

Choosing the right topic

Need help finding a topic? Fill in the blanks!

  • I think that everyone should ____ because ____.
  • I would recommend seeing the movie, ____ because ____.
  • The best restaurant in my city is ____ because ____.
  • I would suggest putting the book, ____ at the top of your reading list because ____.
  • My favorite thing to do during the holidays is ____ because ____.

You can choose any topic you’d like, but the best topics are the ones you’re intimately familiar with. If you’re a vegetarian, it’s easier to write about “Meatless Mondays” than about how to grill a hamburger. If you really hate a movie, you’ll find it easy to come up with reasons to convince someone not to see it (or vice versa). If you’ve adopted a pet and want others to do the same, you’ll have a wealth of personal knowledge to share based on your experience.

Earlier this year, I wrote an opinion piece for Pacific Standard magazine examining the criticisms that have been lobbed at the Millennial generation, and how race and ethnicity had been largely ignored when it came to the media’s discussion about Millennials. As an Asian American and member of the generation (I’m an early ’80s baby) who has read a lot of research about Millennials and could draw from my own personal experiences, writing my thoughts about this topic came very naturally.

In sum: Write what you know. Being able to draw from your own experience with something lends credibility to your arguments.

Reading is fundamental

Before you start writing, you need to start reading. The worst criticism you can get about your opinion piece is that it’s ill-informed. You also don’t want your piece sounding redundant because you’re making the same points that everyone else has already made (oh, you think “Let It Go” is the best song on the Frozen soundtrack? Get in line). Reading will help you avoid both of these pitfalls.

Cite your sources. Linking to other people whose work you’ve read and are using in your piece will show that you’ve done your research and gives a nice little hat-tip to other writers. You don’t want to be accused of plagiarism. You can either sprinkle links in throughout the post, or gather them all into a “For Further Reading…” section at the end.

If you’re writing about something in the news, read as many news reports as you can from a variety of different sources so you can examine the story from different angles. If you’re reviewing a movie, you’ll want to read both negative and rave reviews so you can can approach your own review with an well-rounded understanding (of course, there are some movies that are universally hated — I’m looking at you, Gigli). If your opinion piece is why everyone should go vegetarian once a week and participate in “Meatless Mondays,” find research to back up your claims that it’s healthy and budget-friendly.

If you use WordPress.com, you can also take a look at Reader tags for the topic you’re writing about. You’ll be able to see how other bloggers have approached the issue, and you might find helpful links to resources that expand or reinforce your own thinking.

In sum: The more knowledgeable you are about the topic you’re writing about, the more persuasive you can be. Linking to other sources on your topic shows you’ve done your research.

Gathering your thoughts

When you’re starting out you might be tempted not to express strong opinions in an attempt to appeal to a wide range of people, but a strong point of view will attract like-minded readers and stimulate conversation fare more effectively than bland platitudes

When you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one — embrace your opinions, just do it thoughtfully.

Before writing, you’ll want to make a list of reasons supporting your argument, and then take your jumbled list and properly organize it.

Let’s say you’re going to write about why people should adopt a pet rather than buy one at a pet store. After you brainstorm, read, and jot your thoughts down, your initial list may look like this:

  • Most shelters vaccinate animals so you won’t have to.
  • They also spay or neuter them.
  • Adopting a pet will prevent the animal from being euthanized.
  • Adopting a pet means you won’t be supporting a “puppy mill” with your money.
  • When you adopt, you open up another space at the shelter for an animal in need.
  • Animals bred in mills often have behavioral problems or aren’t well-socialized.
  • Adopting a pet is often much less expensive than going to a pet store.
  • Shelters will often provide you with all the information you need on how to care for you pet, as well as your pet’s medical history.

Some of these ideas are naturally connected to one another; it’s your job to find those connections to create a logical flow of ideas that leads to your conclusion. Here’s how this list might look after you’ve organized it:

Adoption means avoiding puppy mills

  • Adopting a pet means you won’t be supporting a “puppy mill” with your money.
  • Animals bred in mills often have behavioral problems or aren’t well-socialized.

Adoption will save you time and money

  • Adopting a pet is often much less expensive than going to a pet store.
  • Most shelters vaccinate animals so you won’t have to.
  • They also spay or neuter them.
  • Shelters will often provide you with all the information you need on how to care for you pet, as well as your pet’s medical history.

Adoption means saving a life

  • Adopting a pet will prevent the animal from being euthanized.
  • When you adopt, you open up another space at the shelter for an animal in need.

You’ve now created three main points that you can put forward and break down in three separate sections.

In sum: Organizing your thoughts and arguments will make it much easier to structure your opinion piece when you’re ready to write it.

Time to write

The Daily Post has a few other resources that may come in handy, especially if this is your first foray into opinion writing. If you’re concerned about sounding negative or angry, check out our post on how to rant without sounding like a jerk. If finding your voice is a challenge, take a look at this piece on perfect pitch.

Now that you’ve chosen a topic, done your research, and organized your arguments, it’s time to put it all together. If you’re writing about pet adoption, you may want to start your blog post with a narrative describing the first time saw your pet at the shelter. If you’re writing about a movie you hate, consider starting out with a colorful scene in the movie to draw people in before eviscerating it.

(If you’re not confident with your intro, write the entire post first, and then go back and reconsider it. Sometimes you need to see what your conclusion is before you can write an introduction.)

What about tone or style? Trish Hall, the editor for the Op-Ed section of The New York Times suggests the following:

A good editor friend of mine says, “The mark of a good writer is often someone who can naturally write the way she talks.”

Write in your own voice. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t write the way you think important people write, or the way you think important pieces should sound…

We are normal humans (relatively speaking). We like to read conversational English that pulls us along. That means that if an article is written with lots of jargon, we probably won’t like it.

In sum: Be yourself when you write; show some of your personality. The best opinion pieces read like we’re listening to you give us your stance on something right in front of us.

A few great opinion pieces to inspire you

Monster (Roger Ebert)

In his review of the 2004 film, the prolific film critic describes Charlize Theron’s acting as “one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema.” Bold — it was the line that got me to see the movie.

The Problem With the Red Cross (Felix Salmon, Reuters)

A few days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey and New York, I began volunteering with the Red Cross. My experience with the relief organization was disappointing. Felix Salmon’s criticism of the Red Cross had me nodding along during a time when we were all trying to make sense of a disaster and what we could do to help.

As Not Seen on TV (Pete Wells, New York Times)

Wells’s review of Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square is truly memorable. It’s written as a series of questions to Fieri (“Tell me, though, why does your kitchen sabotage even its more appealing main courses with ruinous sides and sauces?”), and certainly shows Wells’s personality!

Ready to write? We’re excited for some thought-provoking posts and stimulating debate.

Close Comments