A Non-Opinionated Guide to Writing Op-Eds
You must have come across the middle pages of national dailies, both Nepali and English, and noticed several articles that talk about issues ranging from politics, economics, environment and society to music, fashion, technology, education, entrepreneurship and so on. These articles are typically called opinion pieces or, sometimes, op-ed pieces, the latter because they appear alongside the editorial. An Op-ed piece usually, as the name suggests, voices the opinions of the author. These opinions could applaud, criticize or explain certain issues that the author believes to be of contemporary importance.
Most readers tend to be intimidated by the profiles of authors who feature in the Opinion section of popular national dailies. However, an Opinion piece can be written by practically anyone who has a strong opinion about a certain topic and wish to articulate it through an article. If you hold a strong opinion or perspective, however unpopular it may be, on any contemporary issue, you are almost half qualified to be an Op-ed writer; the other half of your qualification would be your ability to voice your opinions articulately, coherently and backed by evidence. I have compiled a few handy tips on writing an Op-ed by going through several articles for those who are new to writing such articles.
- The title of an opinion piece incites curiosity in the reader. It is the definitive determinant of whether the reader simply dismisses your piece and turns the pages of the newspaper or scrolls it out of their sight. It is, therefore, important to choose your words wisely; choose terms that can grab attention without, and this is crucial, being ‘clickbait-ey’. The title should preferably let the reader anticipate the issue(s) the article seeks to discuss. Bear in mind that the title is subject to change at the editor’s discretion. This New York Times piece by the renowned Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely does not bother building intrigue and tells the readers exactly what it is about in its title. This piece, on the other hand, lures the reader by intriguing them with its title, while ensuring the title’s propriety.
- You can sustain the reader’s attention only for so long without a good introduction. The introduction should ideally set the context and argue why it is important to discuss the issue(s) at hand; define the issue(s) and the relevant concepts; and set the stage for the arguments you are going to make by giving the reader a sense of direction of where your arguments are headed. Your introduction could contain one or all of these features. This article serves as an appropriate example of a good introduction to an op-ed piece; it sets the stage well in that it clearly informs the reader that the piece will talk about the National Innovation Center.
- If the title invites the reader to read and the introduction hooks them, the main content and arguments make them stay. The average reader today is flooded with articles and news stories which renders her attention to your piece fickle. Argue unambiguously. Write short and clear sentences. Do not give in to the temptation of pedanticism with sentences laced with jargons. Where jargons are unavoidable, define them in the simplest terms possible.
- The objective of an opinion piece is to voice your opinion emphatically, succinctly and confidently. Do not hedge your sentences unless it is unavoidable. Do not be afraid to express strong opinions. For example, in this opinion piece the Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw unapologetically defends the wealth of the top one percent despite the current political movement against the “uber-rich”. The Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, however, argues otherwise.
- Back your claims with evidence and cite your sources. Instead of making a vague reference to your source by saying “studies show that…” or “researchers claim that…”, specify year, author or organization and publication of the study. Articles that make claims that are not backed by evidence with their sources do not incite confidence in the editor.
- An opinion piece informed by research is most likely to make an impact on your readers. If the purpose of your piece is to make them see through your vantage point, it is effective to inform them of the prevalent perspectives or lines of thought before trying to convince them otherwise.
- An opinion piece that critiques a particular issue, such as a policy, government decision, business practices and so on, must propose solutions and justify why those solutions are better suited to resolve the issue. For instance, this opinion piece points out poor performance of the government in terms of capital spending and industrial growth and goes on to outline possible ways out of the status quo.
- An effective conclusion is one that drives home the central arguments that you have made throughout your piece. Your conclusion should emphatically and unambiguously state your arguments. The strength of the supporting evidence with which you have backed your arguments determine the strength of the conclusions at which you arrive.
- Op-ed writers often divide the piece into several parts using subheadings. While not a strict requirement, this can give the piece a structured outlook that can appeal to the readers since it allows readers to quickly skim through the parts they do not find relevant and thoroughly read the other parts.
- Finally, be creative. Unlike academic essays and research papers, an opinion piece grants you substantial creative liberty. There is no one best way to write an op-ed piece; its only purpose is to convince the readers of its arguments and the best piece does or at least tries to do just that. This New Yorker article is a good example of an opinion piece that is creative in its writing style which easily inspires the readers imagination with its story-telling and an interesting take on the downfall of diet coke.