Writing an opinion piece
What is an opinion piece?
An opinion piece is an article, usually around 800-900 words, that presents an opinion and builds an argument for something to be done.
It is NOT a report about research, but an informed opinion about the implications of research for action.
Opinion articles are sometimes called Op-ed articles. This means ‘Opposite the Editorial page’ – where opinion pieces usually placed in broadsheet newspapers.
The articles published by The Conversation and Croakey are generally opinion pieces.
Why write an opinion piece?
Opinion pieces are a good way of getting exposure when your research may not warrant a journalist’s attention as a news story.
They position you as the expert – with an opinion backed by your research.
They are useful for advocacy and to disseminate research to a broad audience.
Finding your argument
Think about the context
While opinion pieces are not news, they are generally newsworthy. That is, they respond to or comment on something that is of general interest at the time.
Before you write:
- Read up on how this issue has been covered in the media recently.
- Think about who you will pitch to – is this the kind of story they cover? Would it work for their audience?
- Do a quick keyword search of their website to see what they have run on this issue before.
- Ask yourself what is new or interesting about what you’re going to write. What will you say that no-one else has said before? What insights might be interesting to the public?
- Ask yourself whether this article matters to a wider audience – and why now?
Work out your key messages
Based on your research and your expertise, what do you believe about this issue? Is there something you want to advocate for? Or an angle on a topic that you would like to impart?
Think about the one thing that this article is trying to say. If someone asked you ‘so what’ – how would you answer in one sentence?
Then think about how you will make that argument. Write down each point, making sure you cover the who, how, why, when and what. Stick to a single theme or argument.
Order the points logically.
Structuring the article
First sentence or paragraph
The purpose of the first sentence/paragraph is to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more.
Good opinion pieces often start with a short, sharp statement. Sometimes they might start with a story or human case study. Or they might start with something that is new, relevant or surprising. You can use your own experiences if you like.
Be as compelling as possible. Would you click?
“I remember the first time I turned up to a parkrun in Sydney in 2014, with butterflies in my stomach. A colleague had persuaded me to go along to one of the weekly 5km community runs in open, green spaces – but, even as a regular jogger, I was nervous I would come last.” (From the Prevention Centre).
“The empty shelves in the supermarkets are a stark reminder of the potential of climate change to impact our food supply.” (From Croakey)
“In politics, as in life, there are always colliding truths.
There is no legal reason or historical precedent for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum to be a detailed proposal. The reverse is true. Referendums pose simple questions and parliaments take care of the detail.” (From smh.com.au)
Body of the article
Once you have grabbed the reader’s attention, explain the context. What is this article adding to the debate, and why should readers continue?
Now elaborate on your dot points. Use examples and description to bring colour and interest to what you write.
Put in plenty of statistics and references to research (hyperlinked rather than endnotes) to back up your argument.
Put the most important information higher up as people often don’t finish the whole article.
Make sure there is a call to action – what you would like people to do, how they should act or what should they change as a result of your argument?
Try to link paragraphs (the end of one paragraph leads into the start of the next) so the article reads as a coherent argument.
The final paragraph is often a call to action, above.
Or it could be a conclusion that provides a summary – referencing the issue you began with – and paints a positive picture of how the world would improve if your advice were followed.
The aim is to leave the reader satisfied that you have answered the issue, and that they know what to do with this information.
“Indeed, maternal obesity is a societal issue that we must all tackle with a shared vision to protect women’s health during pregnancy and the health of their children, our next generation.” (From MJA Insight+)
“We all deserve to live and work in places that intrinsically support, rather than detract from, healthy choices and behaviours, and therefore our health itself.” (From The Conversation)
“These measures to provide sustainable and attractive career opportunities will ensure a pipeline of trained public health researchers – and the prioritisation of public health for the good of all in Australia.” (From Croakey)
Write how you speak. The more conversational, the better.
Use plain English – do not use jargon. Try and simplify every word you use. The Conversation asks authors to write as if speaking to an educated 16 year-old. For other media, that should be a 12 year-old.
Explain complex ideas as you would in a conversation with a non-expert.
Different media outlets have different requirements for pitches. In general, in your pitch you should:
More from the CERI User Guide
This chapter of the User Guide is one in a series available from The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre website. It was prepared by members of the Collaboration for Enhanced Research Impact (CERI) Coordinating Group to provide practical tips on knowledge mobilisation and science communication for researchers working in the prevention of chronic disease.
The Collaboration for Enhanced Research Impact (CERI) is a joint initiative between the Prevention Centre and several NHMRC Centres of Research Excellence, established in June 2020 to enhance the profile and impact of chronic disease prevention in Australia. We are working together to find alignment in the policy and practice implications of our work and to develop shared communications across our various projects and participating centres.