An article written in newspapers, in which a writer presents their own opinion about any particular topic is called an opinion piece. Opinion pieces are one of the most important tools in communication because they have the power to reach a wider audience and initiate discussion. Anyone can write an opinion piece, but writing one that will be accepted by a newspaper and actually read by the audience is quite a challenge. So how do we write compelling opinion pieces? Here are some tips based on my own experience of sending opinion pieces to Nepali newspapers:
- Topic: The first task is to decide what to write about. The topic you pick will decide the fate of your article. Choose a subject that you know well, so you can write from experience. For example, if you are a public health professional, don’t write about engineering unless you work overlaps with engineering (or you have a second career!). You’ll get more points if you write about something that is new, surprising, on trend, and that readers can relate to. Choose a topic and stick to it.
- Headline: The headline will make or break the entire article. In a sea of opinion pieces, people will only decide to keep reading if the headline catches their eye. Opt for an interesting headline, but remember that an experienced editor might change your headline before publishing, to make it stronger.
- Data: An opinion piece is stronger with data, especially when you are writing on science topics such as mental health. Opinion is important, but unless backed up by relevant evidence it won’t be as strong. Adhere to accepted rules for citing information from other sources, to ensure that you avoid unintentional plagiarism. Most newspapers run plagiarism checks on articles before publishing, and you’ll ruin your chances both now and in the future if you have plagiarized.
- Examples: Opinion pieces benefit from interesting examples or experiences from your own life. When I wrote a piece about ‘Conversion disorder’ in a leading national daily in Nepal I began by describing a girl showing the symptoms of the disorder, a scene I had witnessed myself during a field trip to a remote school in Nepal.
- Proofread: Your opinion piece is ready now. But don’t send it out just yet! You might have made some spelling and grammar errors which can easily be identified and rectified these days with the help of software. It’s always a good idea to have a colleague read it for you too – it’s very difficult to proofread your own writing, so a ‘second set of eyes’ is always a good back-up.
A final piece of advice: prepare for rejection! Even if you have written a great opinion piece with the perfect headline, grammar, and content, there’s still a good chance your article won’t be published. There will be hits and misses. This can be really disheartening when you’ve put a lot of effort into a piece. Follow up with the editor, and if they aren’t going to publish it ask them for feedback about what you could have done differently, and learn for the next time. If you hear nothing from your submission or follow-ups within a month it’s time to try again; send it to other newspapers, rewrite the piece, or look for a new topic. As is always the way, practice makes perfect!