Argue your way to a new career

Posted: 25 February, 2013 in writing
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“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” 

― George Orwell, Why I Write

Opinion pieces have always been one of my favourite writing genres and are a great way to get started if you’re looking to kickstart your writing career. You may not get published right away but that’s why blogs are ideal, because they give writers a prime opportunity to practice putting their opinions forward in a balanced and effective way.

Opinion pieces are similar in style to the essay: an argument is put forth, argued and a conclusion made. The perfect op-ed (opinion editorial) is written, not to be deliberately offensive, but in a way that gets your reader thinking and meditating on what has been expressed. You may not change the reader’s mind with your piece but the right reader will take what has been argued and at least give it some thought.

While editorials are continually growing in popularity, writers need to remember it is a dangerous time to have opinions. The wrong one can have you quickly labelled as a bigot, ignorant, uneducated, or the pièce de résistance of insults today, a racist.

The important thing with opinions is backing them up with reasonable arguments. It’s no use making a statement and insinuating that those who don’t agree are wrong or ignorant. But know that no matter how decent and well-grounded your argument you won’t convert everyone to your way of thinking.

Ironically, in this politically correct age, the one thing most editors hate in an opinion piece is a writer trying to be too diplomatic. No fence-sitting, no plasticine points. You need to be firm, unwavering and direct, and have no doubts about what you’re defending or opposing.

Will you piss people off? Absolutely! Will they vow to never read your writing again? Definitely. Will they come back for more anyway? You bet! Why? Because some people just love to be annoyed, while others really do enjoy a well-written opinion editorial.

Here are some other points to consider in opinion pieces:

Consistency: Readers can sniff out a fake a mile away so it’s important that you’re genuinely arguing for something you believe in. If you fluctuate in your opinion from one paragraph, post or editorial, to the next, your readers will notice and they will call you on it.

Stick to three or four major points: Some topics have countless points of argument so it’s necessary to pick the most important to you and stick to them. You don’t want to inundate your reader with opinions. Even one or two thoroughly argued points will leave more of an impression on your reader than five or six superficial arguments.

Knowledge: While the opinions featured in print publications are often about contemporary events, you do have a bit of leeway with your personal blog. Opinions about current events are more likely to spark ongoing comments than a comment of something that happened last year, or even last month. Keep in mind, though, that regardless of the opinion you’re voicing, your knowledge of your subject needs to be flawless. If a reader can pull you up on even one point that you have wrong, they will start to question everything you’ve written. And if you do make a mistake, acknowledge it. No reader will fault you for an admission of error.

Fairness: Arguing for or against something will make more of an impression if your reader has a sense of impartiality and fairness in your opinion. Bias comes across very quickly and readers are put off by opinions that seem to have an agenda – like pushing a product, political party or personal promotion. If these are subjects you like to cover it’s important you show you have considered alternatives and argue just as effectively against them as you do for the case you’re making.

As with all writing, practice makes perfect. Opinion pieces become addictive after a while and if you can argue well, and have a few blog posts (including responses) to add to your portfolio, you could well see your opinion in print in no time.

Write on!


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