Writing Opinion Pieces


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A guide to help student journalists write effective and responsible opinion pieces

Published in: Education, Technology

Writing Opinion Pieces

  1. 1. “ Say What?” Writing Opinion Pieces Sarah Ortman OSMA Convention Otterbein University December 3, 2010
  2. 2. The Opinion Process <ul><li>Ideas for editorials and columns can be found in the news and feature content of any good student publication . </li></ul><ul><li>Why? Because those stories should reflect the concerns of your readers: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>activities of various school groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>stories about new district programs and policies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>local and national issues that affect students </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. What Can I Write About? <ul><li>Alert staffers listen to their readers. What are students talking about in the halls? Examples might include… </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ Wh y can’t we have longer lunch periods?” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ Wh y don’t report cards list numerical grades for each class instead of letter grades?” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ W h y are there never enough spaces available in the student parking lot?” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Any of these questions could be the basis for a opinion piece – one you can write after you do the required research. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Types of Editorials and Columns <ul><li>All editorials and columns should reflect “ i n formed opinion” </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Without doing research to inform yourself, you won’t know what kind of editorial or column to write. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Opinion pieces can explain, criticize, persuade, praise or entertain – depending on the topic and the circumstances. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Research Determines Approach: <ul><li>For example, without doing research, should you write an opinion piece on school lunch that: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>criticizes the school district for not offering longer lunch periods? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>persuades school officials to lengthen lunch periods? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>explains to readers why administrators can’t logistically offer more time for lunch? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>makes its point as a humorous column about gobbling down food and being late for class every day after lunch? </li></ul></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Facts Determine Focus: <ul><li>You won’t know what you should write about the problem until you’ve done the research… </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>interviewing knowledgeable administrative sources </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>gathering facts about neighboring school district lunch policies </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>talking to other students and teachers </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Then -- and only then -- can you formulate an i n formed opinion and be able to select the best focus for your editorial or column </li></ul>
  7. 7. Opinion Writing Takes Skill: <ul><li>Leads should grab the reader’s attention </li></ul><ul><li>Focus should be clear to the reader early on </li></ul><ul><li>Body paragraphs should present facts and data you’ve gathered from your research </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You can quote sources, give examples & statistics, use analogies, compare & contrast </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Convince your readers by using indirect methods – don’t preach or moralize but offer solutions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Present the facts that show the reader why you feel the way you do </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Opinions CAN Make a Difference <ul><li>Editorials and columns offer one of the strongest and most effective outlets for student viewpoints </li></ul><ul><li>School administrators do read – and often react positively upon – the suggestions students make </li></ul><ul><li>Opinion pieces should not be an afterthought -- they should be planned, based on student concerns, researched carefully, & logically developed into one the most important sections of your publication </li></ul>
  9. 9. Step 1 - RESEARCH <ul><li>No matter what the topic, all good opinion writing requires research . Your opinion needs to be based on concrete facts & accurate reporting, or the whole point of your piece may fail -- or worse, it may libel someone. </li></ul><ul><li>Your viewpoints should be supported by specific facts , personal experience &/or direct interviews with those who are knowledgeable about the topic or problem. Find statistics, evidence & examples in your school, local community, state and/or nation to back up your opinion. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Understand both sides of an issue <ul><li>Be sure to research and understand BOTH sides of the issue about which you’re writing. You can't adequately defend your opinion if you don't understand the opposing arguments. </li></ul><ul><li>When criticizing a new school program or policy, talk to those in charge to find out why it was implemented -- include that information in an objective story in the news section of your publication. </li></ul><ul><li>Then write your column or editorial explaining WHY the policy is problematic, flawed or unfair. Be flexible and willing to give up your position if your research shows the facts don't justify it. </li></ul>
  11. 11. STEP 2: Organization Is Essential <ul><li>An opinion piece, like a good persuasive essay, should include a strong introduction: a creative lead that will draw your readers in, followed by a nut paragraph that introduces your main point. </li></ul><ul><li>The lead and nut graph should be followed by a body of supporting paragraphs, ending with a conclusion that leaves your readers convinced your opinion is correct. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Develop a Clear Focus <ul><li>Know what it is you’re really trying to say. </li></ul><ul><li>You should be able to summarize in one sentence the main point you want to make in your editorial or column: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ Th e new attendance policy may have been implemented with good intentions, but it’s unfair to both students and parents.” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ The high school’s parking regulations are flawed.” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ The positive aspects of the new exam schedule outweigh the negative ones.” </li></ul></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Be Specific <ul><li>No generalizations. Use real examples, clear illustrations, current statistics and FACTS to back up your opinion. </li></ul><ul><li>A personal story can help make your point, unless it comes off only as a case of &quot;sour grapes.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example: Someone didn’t make the team & wants to write a column claiming the tryouts were unfair. But if it’s a legitimate problem, cover the allegations as a news or feature that shows both sides of the story, and then have another staffer write the critical opinion piece.) </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Opinion Writing Tips: <ul><li>Provide sufficient support for your premise, but don't overwrite. Stay focused. Studies show the longer the piece, the less likely it is to be read by your audience. </li></ul><ul><li>Include a solution to any problem you are criticizing, and suggest specific action. (If the current policy or situation is not good, what possible changes should be made to improve it?) </li></ul>
  15. 15. More Opinion Writing Tips: <ul><li>Don’t use clichés , cheap shots, or pontification – Preaching or talking down to your readers will alienate them before they have a chance to evaluate the merit of your arguments. </li></ul><ul><li>Sarcasm can be effective in column writing if used carefully, but your words should be humorous and clever -- not mean-spirited. </li></ul><ul><li>Apply all of the elements of good writing: make editorials and columns concise, clear and logical. Write with a strong, natural voice. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Stand By What You Write! <ul><li>Don’t hide behind your publication’s cloak of anonymity . Anticipate any controversy your editorial or column may generate after it’s published. </li></ul><ul><li>2. Remember that unsigned editorials usually represent the view of the publication’s editorial board . A column is an opinion piece that gives the viewpoint of the author only and therefore contains his or her byline. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Know Media Law & Ethics <ul><li>Like all published writing, opinion pieces can be potentially libelous if they contain allegations that can be shown to be both false and defamatory to a specific person identifiable in the editorial or column. </li></ul><ul><li>Student journalists most often anger school administrators when they criticize policies or personnel in opinion pieces without giving those being criticized a fair opportunity to respond or explain their actions -- usually in a separate news story included in the same issue. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Questions to Ask Before Printing: <ul><li>What may happen after this editorial or column is published? Can you explain why it was important to write this piece? </li></ul><ul><li>Is the premise accurate and well supported with provable facts? </li></ul><ul><li>Does the piece offer a solution or suggest actions that school officials or readers may implement to improve the current situation? </li></ul>
  19. 19. More Ethical Questions: <ul><li>Have potentially libelous allegations been checked for accuracy? Have the person(s) identified in the piece been given a chance to respond in an objective news story included in the same publication? </li></ul><ul><li>If someone in your family were the subject of this editorial or column, would you still consider it accurate and well-written? </li></ul><ul><li>Finally, are you personally prepared to handle the criticism that may result from the publication of this editorial or column? </li></ul>