The following SPA Guide has been kindly written by guest author Jacob Fleming. Jacob is Head Opinion Editor for The Indiependent, a national platform for aspiring journalists.
It’s not so much what you think, but why you think it!
Opinions: we’ve all got them; some of them are spicy and others are rather inoffensive. Writing opinionated articles on current affairs and politics really frees you up to writing exactly what you think, and why you think it; with the added benefit of being a little dramatic to hammer your point home.
In this guide, I’ll outline some tips when pitching to opinion sections for publications both big and small, as well as how to write the article once you’ve had your piece commissioned!
How to pitch an Opinion article
I know this sounds obvious, but you need to have a strong opinion with a personal and unique angle in your pitch. You aren’t just pitching your thoughts on issue you’re pitching; you’re also selling how you feel about it as well.
You need to state:
- What your opinion is on the specific issue in question
- How your opinion is unique compared to everyone else’s
- What research helps boulters your opinion
- Why your opinion is poignant and relevant at this moment in time
- Why people would be interested to read an article based on your opinion
Opinionated articles are so much fun to read simply because you’re engaging with the raw thoughts of another human being; these opinions are often tied up in emotion, so they make for truly great reading.
Your audience doesn’t have to agree with what you write, but that doesn’t matter – you are aiming to open up a discourse with fresh take, adding a distinctive layer of commentary to the conversation. It’s a balancing act of being unique, interesting, timely, and confident.
So, you’ve pitched your article and you’ve had it commissioned! Now we have to look at…
How to write an Opinion article
This is where the fun begins – you now have the power to write something compelling, insightful, maybe a little humorous, or even rather controversial! Writing your thoughts into full sentences isn’t always easy and completing that first draft can be a difficult task.
You DO want something that’s informative, opinionated and entertaining, kind of like an essay.
You DON’T want something that’s too academic and, therefore, inaccessible to the general public, exactly like an essay.
Finding that tone takes practise, and the more you write opinion articles the better you will become.
Now let’s look at the starting point – and without a doubt, the most important piece of text in the entire article – the first paragraph. It needs to pique the reader’s interest so much so that they’ll continue reading, engrossed with what you have to say.
This involves stating your opinion, whilst grounding it in the context of your article’s focus. You have to remember you’re writing to leave a lasting impression with your opinion and not have the opinion feature halfway down the article – it needs to be at the top!
Without an opinion, the reader will be lost and won’t know what they’re reading. You could have the best title in the world that attracts thousands of viewers in an instant, but if they don’t have an opinion to get hooked to in the first paragraph, they won’t stick around to read the rest of your hard work.
Once the introduction is written, you must be careful not to fall into a very avoidable trap: retelling events. It’s incredibly easy to find yourself listing events that support your point, until you read it back and it’s just a string of events. It’s something I see all the time as an editor – if the reader wanted to have a recap of the events, they’d watch the news, not read an opinion piece.
People come to opinion sections to engage with the author’s thoughts,
discussing them with their family and/or friends on whether they agree or disagree; thus, continuing the thought-provoking dialogue you’ve helped create.
Cherry picking links to articles and studies that support your point is paramount, as it helps to add the necessary context to someone who might be unfamiliar with. You wouldn’t write an opinionated article about The National Security Law in Hong Kong without referencing the protests to the 2019 extradition bill. This is where you help the reader understand your
opinion, by bringing them up to speed with current affairs and relating said happenings to your unique opinion.
If I were writing an article on an opinion that ‘the Chinese Government have been taking steps to evolve from an Authoritarian government to a Totalitarian one’ I would need to briefly define the differences between Authoritarian and Totalitarian as well as add in the context of historical events – these being the undemocratic implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the establishment of concentration camps in the Xinjiang province in China. Leave the explaining of these events to the articles you link, and then refer to them again when discussing them against your opinion.
Last, and certainly not least, be a little dramatic! If you’re passionate and well informed about a specific issue, that makes you more than qualified to get emotional with dramatic language. If you listen to the radio hosts at LBC (James O’Brian, Nick Ferrari, Maajid Nawaz etc.), each of these journalists spend their days listening to the opinions of the public: either dissuade them from their original standpoint to try and look at it in a different way, or they
end up having their opinion changed by someone else’s insight. One consistent factor in these conversations are the raw emotions at play, eliciting some response in both the reader and writer.
This is what you should aim to do with your writing – a strong, well informed opinion has the potential to be the deciding factor on changing someone’s mind.