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December 7, 2011 |  7 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Editorial Team

How to Write a Convincing Opinion Article

Editorial Team: Writing an “op-ed” for our “Your Opinion” section is very different to writing an essay at university. While the purpose of academic work is often to analyze a complex issue in depth, the goal of a think tank publication is to provide clear solutions for decision makers.

Check out our updated guide to writing for Atlantic Community, then read some of the advice below.

As former university students, we appreciate that after three to five years spent analyzing problems and concluding that they are indeed very complex, writing an op-ed with a strong thesis, innovative ideas, and a solution-oriented approach to an important transatlantic issue could seem like a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.

Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat from the United States Institute of Peace - who was a jury member for our recent op-ed competition - made the following 10 suggestions, which our editorial team have adapted and elaborated.

1. An op-ed is a short piece - you want to make only one point in an op-ed.

Articles for our Your Opinion section should be 500-700 words short. Because you can’t solve the world’s problems in 700 words, focus on one idea or issue and have one clear objective. You are trying to cover too much if you can’t explain your message in one or two sentences.

2. Spend some time thinking about the title of your article - it is the first introduction to the argument.

Readers have short attention spans. Draw them in with a strong headline that emphasizes your central message. A catchy title will help sell your piece and allow readers to grasp your idea quickly.

3. Put your main argument up-front - do not bury your main argument at the end of the piece.

You need to grab the reader’s attention in the first line. Express your opinion in your opening paragraph. Always come down hard on one side of the argument. Never equivocate. Don’t waste words giving too much background information. Don’t “clear your throat” with witty or historical asides. Get to the point and convince the reader that reading your article is worth the effort. They don’t have much time.

4. Tell the reader why they should care about the issue.

Imagine you are a busy person reading your article. At the end of each paragraph ask yourself, “So what? Who cares?” Your article should answer these questions. Personal experience can provide a compelling story and draw the reader in. Appealing to the reader’s self-interest is more effective than abstract commentary.

5. Set up a target - that is, frame the issue/argument.

After you have made your argument, use one sentence to identify the strongest counter argument and refute it with facts. For example, "Some might argue that bombing Tehran is the only option, however..."

6. Provide the reader with clear recommendations.

This is the most important point. You need to offer solutions or a better approach. Unlike a university tutor, we are not satisfied with mere analysis or criticism. Give us your opinion. How exactly should the EU address the sovereign debt crisis or how should Obama change his policy towards Iran? Don’t just call for more research or say we need more dialogue. Make constructive policy recommendations that are actionable by decision makers in the United States, Europe and relevant international organizations.

7. Use short clear sentences with short paragraphs - keep the language simple. In an op-ed "plain vanilla" is better than a "tall skinny caramel macchiato with extra foam"!

Anyone should be able to understand your argument. Use short sentences. Avoid technical jargon, acronyms and obscure references. Cut long paragraphs into two or more shorter ones. Only use technical details when they are essential to your argument. Using simple language doesn’t mean simple ideas. It means successfully conveying your solutions to people who lack your expertise.

8. Do not use the passive voice.

The active (“I believe that”) voice is more concise and easy to read than the passive voice (“it could be argued that”). Use active verbs and try to avoid adjectives and adverbs. Your arguments will have an identity making your article more convincing.

9. Provide clear and real life examples.

When you suggest a solution, give an example of it working elsewhere. Look for great examples that breathe life into your arguments. Avoid abstraction. Always use specific references and easy-to-understand data.

10. Think about your ending. Make it a winner.

Your final paragraph should summarize your argument with a catchy, thought-provoking final sentence. Please avoid clichés like “we need to help the Arab genie force its way out of the bottle.” Make sure your ending tells decision makers what action they should take.

As a think tank we are most interested in specific policy recommendations for the European and North American governments and related international organizations. We appreciate strong theses supported by substantial arguments and innovative ideas as well as a solution-oriented approach for an important, contemporary transatlantic issue. Op-eds should also be comprehensible to members of the general public and not include dense scientific or technical jargon. We are interested in topics ranging from traditional and non-traditional security concerns, the global economy, climate change, NATO and many more.

Last but not least...

Finally, for your op-ed to be published on atlantic-community.org, it must contain the following: an author byline (listing the author's name and affiliation with a relevent institution) and an author photograph (which you can upload yourself or send to staff@atlantic-community.org). Authors should also register as members of atlantic-community.org, which is free and can be done in just a few seconds at http://www.atlantic-community.org/index/users/register. We look forward to receiving your articles!

For more ideas on writing convincing op-eds, try these links:

· Columbia University: How to write Op-ed Columns

· Duke University: Op-Ed Articles: How to Write and Place Them

· Fairleigh Dickinson University: Want to write an op-ed piece?

· Oregon State University: Write a killer op-ed piece

 

Photo credit: cc 2.0 DonkeyHotey.

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I like this Article! What's this?

 
 
Comments
Bernhard  Lucke

May 25, 2011

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This recommendation sounds too nice to be true, and to be honest, I don't think it will have a positive impact on politics. Essentially, you are telling people how to make an argument SOUND nice, and advise to skip the thoughtful, critical part that involves your doubts and insecurities.

Isn't this actually happening in the media? Everything moves faster and has to be shorter, please explain the world in three phrases. And isn't this the reason why many citizens like me feel uncomfortable with what we read in the media, because it is simplified, just copied and copied again, stylistically great, yes, but with shallow content? Lacking true experience, but swimming in the current that the German word "Zeitgeist" describes so well?

What we need is more first-hand experiences and critical thinking, and willingness to embark on a more scientific way of thinking. That is: take time to read through more information, have a look at the other side or other points of view. In times where most newspapers cut positions for their journalists working abroad, blogs in the internet are somewhat of a sanitary mechanism of our unconscious, that FEELS that something is wrong with the picture of the world as it is displayed in the media, but doesn't KNOW what is happening.

I argue for the opposite: Take more time, more space, and more consideration before making decisions. And while it may be attractive for politicians to swim in the current, and to put themselves into the flashlight by dramatic action, I think those who really are remembered are the ones that maintain the ability to consider topics thoughtfully.

Let's be honest: we largely failed in complex environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East in general, and that's because our decision-making lacked substance. We need a more scientific way of looking at politics, and not only sophisticated ways of argumentation. In a way, I have the impression that policies have the tendency to follow the model of U.S. civil law: lots of brilliant arguments, colossal amounts of money, but in the end wasted, because the result has little to do with what most people consider as basic justice.

Certainly, no one will read a badly written essay. It is an art to explain complex issues in short lines that everybody, including decision-makers, understands. And in times where half of the populations work too much while the other half has no opportunity to realize their potential, we should thank those blog-writers only more who dare to explain what they think.

But honour science, think twice, and don't make complex things too easy. We may pay for that, and the price can be really high.
 
Oliver  Hauss

June 7, 2011

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I'd like to emphatically support Bernhard Lucke's comment. Essentially, the original article calls for "style over substance". Of course, an op-ed can't be a dissertation, but we tread dangerous ground when we value eloquence over solid arguments.
 
Unregistered User

June 8, 2011

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I saw the article as suggesting how we rephrase sound thinking to become accessible.

I was a little puzzled by the following quote: "Some might argue that bombing Tehran is the only option, however..." -- yes you are setting it up for refutation.

But what would we think if "Some might argue that bombing New York is the only option..." was the example people in Tehran used to illustrate how to argue?
 
Elias  Gladstone

June 30, 2011

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Dear Bernhard, Oliver and Hans,

Thank you for your thought provoking comments on my article.

I certainly agree that policy making needs to be informed by in-depth research. And this is the role of a think tank: to act as a bridge between the academic and policy worlds by making complex ideas accessible to decision makers who face many competing demands for their attention.

At Atlantic Community we welcome academic work in our “Your Research” section. Nonetheless, after going through the “thoughtful, critical part” it is important to “rephrase sound thinking to become accessible,” as Hans puts it. This is what our “Your Opinion” section is for. As learning how to write opinion articles is often absent from our university curriculum, this guide intends to fill the gap. I do not accept that it calls for “style over substance” or only tells people how to make an argument “SOUND nice.”

The “bombing Tehran” quote is a tongue in cheek reference to a certain US Senator. I cannot say for sure what we would think if “some might argue that bombing New York is the only option, however…” was used by people in Tehran to illustrate how to argue. Nonetheless, I suspect that it would go unnoticed coming from a country where calling for Israel to be "eliminated from the pages of history"* forms an acceptable part of every-day discourse.

* http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1510.htm

 
Unregistered User

November 15, 2011

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The theme here is "Opinion Article". How to write it in a manner that is convincing, is what the guidelines: 1-10 are about. For the writer however, the problem is what picture of readers is in mind?That problem is likely to be oversimplified in the internet age, to the extent that cultural and political values cannot easily get drowned or be held at bay. For that reason there are a handful of troubling instances. All in all, those instances might possibly be neutralized by the fact that the ten guidelines stem from a Peace Research/Study Institute. That makes possible to take things for granted and go about the comment with some form of a neutral mind. That is, strive at elucidating the contents and learning where necessary with one or the other form of an open mind - one that tunes effectively in favour of substance and balance.

Contextually, the expression "opinion paper" is itself contemporary. That is, of relatively recent innovation in response to the complex demands of policy inputs inlet, now that democracy or if one likes it liberalism is gaining an extraordinary footing, partly because of our new media culture, technological breakthroughs in the culture and alarming speed of globalization. These help to break many boundaries, overstepping traditions, group and institutional cultures. Indeed a kind of short cut is developed as a result, if we are bent on thinking that Think Tanks as well as Opinion Papers are parallel and or overlapping steps, alongside many of the proliferating bodies creating policy inputs now and then for governments and institutions. The age we are in is dramatic and to match that the flow (rapidity) of information - decision input materials are much intensified.

I guess the Trans Atlantic Editors know about the consequences hence they re-framed and put across the 10 points. That is to say that, those wishing to submit opinion articles on a variety of their topics might benefit thus. There is no doubt also that commentators on the usefulness of the guidelines could opt to take them one by one or lump-up and say what they think. I guess the latter is what Bernhard Lucke has done. And it seems he is quite critical, seconded by Oliver Hauss. Both seem to culminate and point at possible problem of cultural and political values, surfacing primarily as value critique of the original idea's phraseology, used in exemplifying. Elias Gladstone, has attempted to mediate or excuse, arguing that how to write opinion articles is somewhat absent from university curriculum, and that it is what the10 guidelines attempt to act-out by filling the gap.

You might here say that from one simple reality we enter into another: the need probably to review university curriculum to the benefit of the culture of opinion article. Commentators are few though, but it does seem that what started out simplistically get a bit compounded. One wonders if the culture of journalism in the modern internet age too feels the impact of the bell trying to ring aloud? By the standards of the 10 guidelines, will opinion articles be regarded as too simplistic in an age of complexity - with issues often relatively interrelated and or rooted in "cause-effect" driven realities and arguments? Lessons of diplomacy will not deny the latter. At the same time the main idea behind the 10 guidelines is for the article writer to bite what he/she can chew. On biting thus, dress all out, very well too in as informed a way as possible, partly fertilized by own or locality experience and still better, with approximated cluster of other experiences closer enough as additional help to the emphasis needed for taking the points made seriously, somewhat also above own limited scope of experience. Hard to argue here that investigative journalism elements are ruled out. There again, we are returned to think and conclude that the idea of opinion article is after all not as simplistic as might be though in the first place.

What goes on in internet writing is therefore challenging. The liberalism seen is an help to training of self - if you are not born a writer or are not a professional such. For writers, this is an opening but for readers it is opportunity for selectivity. But things are a mess in the internet. Shall we ever be able to get the qualified inputs for policy needed thus, capped by the moral courage for that which we know is decent, peaceful and good for advancing the course of human progress sustainably? The point however, remains that whether as think tank members or opinion article writers - all want to make inputs, but will the policy maker too take the pains to select, constantly weighing eloquence with substance against the background of the "informed mind" and issues nourishing what turns out to be the crux of themes and arguments. A new age of change needs a new spirit, will and stamina!
 
Talha Bin  Tariq

January 10, 2012

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This is a marvelous article :)
Thankyou

Regards,
Talha Bin Tariq
 
Anton  Casian

July 15, 2012

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A useful article. Thanks
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