Arguably, being a writer of opinion pieces has never been a more accessible venture. With access to a multitude of social media, blogging sites, and online publications that welcome submissions from all, we have more scope than ever to give voice to our beliefs. And provided we do this wisely, this can only be a good thing. But although our opportunities are seemingly endless, we should never take them for granted. We should make each piece we publish count, making sure it is as strong as possible. After all, if we truly believe our opinions are important, why wouldn’t we want to present them in the best possible way whenever the chance arises?
Alas, I’ve seen enough opinion pieces that could be so much more persuasive and meaningful to note that there are a few mistakes that writers seem to make often. Whether we realise it or not, here are few aspects of our writing we should really take notice of in order to make our pieces shine.
The first aspect is register – which simply refers to how formal or informal our language is. When we have a large vocabulary and a good command of our language, it is easy to assume that the most sophisticated use of it will show that we are “proper writers”. However, it is more important to use language that is going to be easily understood by our audience and will lead them to feel as though we understand them as people. It is important to realise that the language we use says a lot about who we are.
Consider this, for example: a journalist is writing an article for a youth magazine, advising teenagers on how to best avoid drug addiction. If they were to use the same register that a conservative, middle-aged Oxford scholar with a PhD in English might naturally use, two main reactions would likely occur. First, the audience would probably not understand what the writer was actually trying to say, as they would be unlikely to have been educated in that kind of language use. Second, they would not find the article credible, because using that language towards an audience that does not also use it alienates them: it says that the writer feels superior to them, and hence it makes it difficult to believe that they could possibly know anything about the issues the readers face, considering that they are trying to separate themselves.
However, if they were to use language closer to that which the audience would use amongst themselves – perhaps without the swearing – it would make them sound as though they were in tune with that audience’s culture, and hence it would be believable that they should understand it.
I saw a good example of this mistake not too long ago. I wrote an article for the youth publication Childhood Road about the negative consequences of teenagers “experimenting” with romantic relationships (read it here). In response to this, a fellow writer wrote a response arguing why I was completely wrong (read it here). Now, whether I was “right” or “wrong”, or whether my writing itself was of any value, is for the audience to decide. What I can say, however, is that the response sounded incredibly pompous; clearly, the writer did not consider that his audience consisted of teenagers, who may well have felt condescended by him in the same way that he claimed they would have when reading my own article.
The second step we can take to improving our writing is a rather simple one: getting to the point. I have seen no shortage of opinion pieces which ramble on without ever actually stating clearly what the writer’s opinion is. Often, writers seem to use a sarcastic or cheeky tone, or mock the person or idea that they are arguing against. They may also make the first mistake mentioned, using language or “sayings” that readers may not understand – or even making jokes that they would not get. Such writers risk not getting their point across to the audience, hence they have wasted an opportunity to write on something important to them. However, they also risk coming across as too shy to state what their opinion is, or as not taking the issue seriously enough to write on it clearly. Seeing as the opinion appears to have been deliberately hidden, it also risks giving the impression that the writer does not want anyone to argue with them.
Take this article, for example. In particular, pay attention to passages such as this:
Tony Abbott’s latest round of hypocritical attention seeking is his renewed call for Malcolm Turnbull to abolish the Renewable Energy Target, which he chose to reduce but not abolish when prime minister. (I really need that thinking face emoji right here.)
What exactly does the writer mean by “et voila” and “thinking face emoji”? I know what these mean literally (“et voila” is French and essentially means “and there you go”, and an “emoji” is one of those little graphics that you use in text messages and online chat of different faces representing different emotions), but what is she trying to say? While she clearly has opinions on certain people and issues, she has not concisely stated them. To me, this piece feels incomplete, as though she is too afraid to come right out and say how she feels.
Now read this article. It states the writer’s opinion in the first sentence. It’s direct and it does what it’s meant to do. When we write an opinion piece, it is because we believe our opinions are important enough to be heard. So what’s the point of writing if our opinions are still not known?
As opinion writers, our aim will most likely be to change the way people think about a particular issue. To do this, we must get inside the minds of our readers and determine how to present our arguments so as to have this effect. Using the language that our readers identify with and understand, and making our opinions as obvious as possible, are two of the most crucial factors in making sure our pieces count.
Note: other articles referenced in this article have been written by Andrew Bolt, Latika Bourke and Ian Hughes. I do not own the copyright to any of the content in said articles written by said third parties. Reference to any material created by third parties does not constitute my endorsement of those parties or their opinions, nor does it constitute my endorsement, or lack thereof, of those third parties themselves.
This post is contributed as Guest post by John Cuturilo.
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