Opinion pieces, otherwise known as columns, are relatively short pieces of writing in which the author will present their opinion or point of view on an issue.
There is no one right way to write an opinion piece. Indeed, great opinion pieces come in all kinds of structures, most of which are entirely different to the traditional essay structure that students are often taught when they write their first persuasive pieces of writing.
This lack of structure can be useful to some students, but greatly intimidating to others, who find themselves completely unsure of where to start when it comes to expressing their point of view.
Often, there is a clear difference between these two types of students. The students who are most comfortable with the creative license they have to write in their own style are often those students who have read the most opinion pieces themselves prior to starting to write. This is often true of students in other subjects with other creative tasks, of course – the media student who is creating a horror film is often more comfortable with designing their film if they have watched a number of horror films in the past.
If you haven’t read many opinion pieces, then it might be useful to look at a number of them and think about the way in which they are structured as you read. The collection below will start to provide you with some examples as to how such pieces can be structured. This list is by no means exhaustive – there are many other ways to structure a piece effectively. If you’d like to see more examples, there is a list of links at the bottom of this page to places where good opinion pieces are found online.
Repetitive sentence starters
Often, opinion piece writers will use repetition to help structure their thoughts, particularly if they have a wide range of examples that they would like to use as they justify or explain their opinion.
One of the best examples of this was written by Sam De Brito, who wrote a very emotional piece on ‘Hating the Media’. As you read the article, you will see that De Brito uses the words “I hate” to start many of his sentences:
I hate the rampant racism in our news coverage and we deny it’s even there. I hate the parochialism of our “meeja” and that we do so little to educate people about the geopolitical realities that are shaping the world we live in.
I hate the lies that go unchallenged. I hate that “balanced coverage” means quoting some halfwit that “vaccination really does cause autism” or that “climate change isn’t happening” despite 97 per cent of scientists agreeing it is.
De Brito then turns the story around in the last paragraph when he uses the words “I love” to open the sentence. Such repetition allows his arguments to build upon one another, feeling as if his argument is growing stronger with each new point.
This technique is often used in persuasive texts – Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech being perhaps the most famous example.
Using a personal anecdote as an introduction
Anecdotes are short stories about a real incident or person. We tell anecdotes all the time about our lives, recounting moments of humour or interest. Often, opinion piece writers choose to introduce their stories through the use of an anecdote from their own lives.
Take the opening to Ian Sherr’s article entitled ‘Your Kids Hate Your Smartphone Addiction’:
I can’t stay off my phone. And I’m afraid it’s hurting my 2-year-old son.
Sometimes it’s a breaking news story that draws me in, other times it’s boredom. Whatever it is, this device in my hands — which gives me access to nearly all human knowledge plus all the cat videos I could ever want — is constantly calling for my attention.
Setting boundaries with my smartphone hasn’t been easy. I’ll sometimes sneak a quick glance at headlines when I’m in line at the grocery store or when we’re waiting to see our son’s pediatrician. Once I tapped on an alert during a religious service.
Sherr’s example is interesting in other ways too. Firstly, his opening paragraph is only one sentence long. By ending the paragraph here, he forces the reader to pause after this sentence and consider the power of the point that he’s made. Secondly, Sherr then goes on to use the next common feature of opinion pieces…
In the remainder of Your Kids Hate Your Smartphone Addiction, Ian Sherr tries to convince readers that they should use their mobile phones less when they are around their own children. During the article, he quotes statistics and research from places such as the journal Child Development, the Pew Research Center, and data analytics firm Flurry.
These sources allow Sherr to move from his own personal experience to showing that his experience is actually similar to that of many other people:
I’m not alone in my screen addiction. The average US consumer now spends about five hours a day on a mobile device, according to data analytics firm Flurry. That number skews even higher for young adults. Nearly 40 percent of those aged 18 to 29 are online “almost constantly,” the Pew Research Center found, and nine times out of 10 they’re using a mobile device.
Another example comes from George Monbiot in ‘Aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate, joylous life’. Like many articles online, Monbiot uses links in his paragraphs to show that he has sourced his ideas from reputable sources. If the reader wants to see the sources themselves, they can simply click on the links.
But there are hints. Mental health beds for children in England increased by 50% between 1999 and 2014, but still failed to meet demand. Children suffering mental health crises are being dumped in adult wards or even left in police cells because of the lack of provision (put yourself in their position and imagine the impact).
The number of children admitted to hospital because of self-harm has risen by 68% in 10 years, while the number of young patients with eating disorders has almost doubled in three years. Without good data, we don’t have a clear picture of what the causes might be, but it’s worth noting that in the past year, according to the charity YoungMinds, the number of children receiving counselling for exam stress has tripled.
As you can see in this example, Monbiot doesn’t name every single source he has used, however the links clearly imply to the reader that his argument is credible and well researched.
Signposting where the article is going
Often when you are taught how to write an essay, you are taught to ‘signpost’ in your introduction. This means that in your intro, you will explain the major arguments that you will include in the body of your essay.
You can do something similar in an opinion piece, although you are unlikely to have each particular argument split up into specific paragraphs. As an example, consider Ross Douthat’s response to the ‘Game of Thrones’ finale in ‘How ‘Game of Thrones’ Failed Fantasy’. Here, he begins his piece with a personal anecdote and then he explains the two arguments that he is going to provide during his piece:
When I started reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, it was the late 1990s and obsessing over fantasy novels was (if painful memory serves) a super-nerdy thing to do. Now that geek culture has carried all before it, the fantasy genre will probably never again be quite as uncool as it was in my youth — but with the end of “Game of Thrones” as a TV phenomenon, it’s also unlikely to remain this chic for long. So this might be my last, best chance to offer an answer to a question that people cooler than myself have always been inclined to ask: Just why do people like fantasy novels, anyway?
Better yet, I’ll offer two answers — one metaphysical, one political — and use the successes and failures of “Game of Thrones” to help illustrate them.
This is a common technique which allows the writer to interest the reader in the arguments that are to come.
Buzzfeed “listicle” articles aren’t considered opinion pieces, as they aren’t designed to provide a clear opinion on a topic. However, it is possible for a writer to compose a list that is designed to influence the reader’s opinion.
Consider Ben Mathis-Lilley’s article ‘The Thirteen Stories You’ll Read After Every Mass Shooting’, in which he criticises the way that American media doesn’t seem to have any impact in preventing future shootings from occurring.
Similarly, Nick Riggle wrote a satirical piece in which he mocks Internet writers called ‘A Typical Reading of a Well-Meaning Person’s Thoughtful Article on the Internet’.
Both of these articles have clear perspectives on what they are discussing, expressing this through a clearly ordered list of items.
Maintaining a consistent ‘voice’
All good opinion writers maintain what is called a consistent voice throughout a piece. This means that if the author has decided to write in a formal style, this style is maintained from start to finish. Similarly, if the author chooses to be chatty or sarcastic or personal, then they will maintain that style.
The ‘voice’ used by a writer will be appropriate for both the publication they are writing for and also for the topic they are talking about.
For example, when an editorial in The New York Times calls for politicians to institute gun control in America as was the case in ‘End the Gun Epidemic in America’, the writer consistently uses a highly formal and professional style of language.
All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of innocents, in California. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are searching for motivations, including the vital question of how the murderers might have been connected to international terrorism. That is right and proper.
But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.
In contrast, comedian Charlie Brooker uses a much more informal, personal, satirical tone in ‘Gamergate: the internet is the toughest game in town – if you’re playing as a woman‘.
I haven’t always been the kind of man who plays videogames. I used to be the kind of boy who played videogames. We’re inseparable, games and I. If you cut me, I’d bleed pixels. Or blood. Probably blood, come to think of it.
Games get a bad press compared with, say, opera – even though they’re obviously better, because no opera has ever compelled an audience member to collect a giant mushroom and jump across some clouds. Nobody writes articles in which opera-lovers are mocked as adult babies who never grew out of make-believe and sing-song; obsessive misfits who flock to weird “opening nights” wearing elaborate “tuxedo” cosplay outfits.
Neither of these voices holds a more appropriate tone than the other. What’s important is that both authors maintain this voice throughout their piece, allowing readers to be engaged by the writing and the argument.
More opinion pieces for you to read
You can read more opinion pieces in the “Opinion” or “Editorial” or “Comment” sections of major newspapers and news websites. Some of these include: