An opinion piece is a great opportunity to express an opinion or advocate for a cause, but you need to be able to structure an argument.
Nearly everyone on the planet writes email, and many people write articles, stories, and news releases as a full-time or part-time endeavor, but fewer people write guest editorials or commentary. It can be a great opportunity for corporate communications and PR folks to get their executives on the high-profile op-ed page, and it also is a chance for anyone to influence a public debate with a strong blog post.
But it requires more than a strong opinion. To win over opponents and sway those who are neutral, you need to craft a persuasive argument. Start by asking a few questions:
- In one sentence, what is the point I want to make?
- What pieces of supporting information do I have?
- Is there anything new here or am I just venting? New information advances the discussion, rather than rehashing well-known facts.
- Can my argument withstand examination?
Keep in mind a common format:
- State the situation that is prompting you to write.
- Make clear your position within the first three paragraphs.
- Present your argument
- Add discussion – related information that deepens reader understanding
You might need to insert background information up high, perhaps in a second or third paragraph, to familiarize the reader with the issue.
The opening – Present the situation that is prompting you to write:
The spring’s college graduates are entering the worst job market in 20 years. With few good jobs on the horizon, many graduating seniors think it is time to get an advanced degree. They should think again.
The writer also made clear his position. It is not necessary to do that in the first paragraph, but don’t wait too long to make your opinion clear, because the reader will wonder what your point is. Sometimes, people will use a descriptive opening, focusing on a person, as a way to enter an opinion piece. Here’s one from award-winning writer Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe, about insurance companies limiting mental health coverage:
Lisa Sampson has to skip her therapy session today. She isn’t feeling suicidal enough to satisfy her insurance company. Lisa is the 31-year-old widow of Daniel Sampson, the Whitman man who police say was mowed down by a repeat drunk driver last December as he walked his dog a block from home.
The body – To make it a compelling argument, provide specific details: substantive facts and statistics, and quotes from authoritative sources can make your case more persuasive. Avoid generalities, because they are not compelling and your opponents will highlight that flaw in a counterargument. Use supporting evidence to build your case, be sure your paragraphs flow cohesively from one to the next, and make your argument easy to follow as you lead the reader toward your conclusion.
Commentaries are a great way to make an impact and raise the profile of your senior leadership.
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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.