Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Writing an Opinion Column - Making Sure Your Ideas Matter

Newspapers are an enduring format for the dispersal of information, and there is a certain respect for this medium that stems from it's rich history. Newspapers are also valuable because they appeal to many generations of people in print and through the Internet. The opinion page of the newspaper offers both the newspaper staff and the public a forum for discussion, and it can be a very volatile aspect of the medium. As an opinion writer or publisher, your job is to uphold the integrity of your paper by writing solid pieces that enhance the publications respect in the eyes of its readership.

Depending on your circumstances, there are various things to think about when writing or publishing an opinion column.
Consider the following:

Think about your audience. Do they care about your topic? If you are writing to get something off your chest, do it in a journal or blog. If you are trying to engage the public with new or interesting ideas, make sure you are connecting with the appropriate readers.

Dont assume everyone thinks like you. Generally the point of an opinion is to sway the viewpoints of others in your direction. If you assume everyone knows something, you are marginalizing people who may not know, while angering people who may know more than you.

This is your OPINION. Stating it as fact limits your credibility. Supporting it with facts boosts your credibility.

Do not be formulaic. Read, listen and watch to make sure your opinion is relevant. There are many common topics that are staples to the opinion page, and it can be difficult not to regurgitate other peoples opinions. What is your angle? What makes your opinion more interesting than those we have heard before?

Do your research. Citing credible sources to support your opinion is essential to being taken seriously. Do not refer to something you heard randomly on the Internet and dont cite friends or parents as authority, unless they are professionals. If you do not support you opinions, readers can easily assume that they are baseless.

Be (a little bit) humble. Be willing to be corrected with an argument as equally substantiated as your own. The opinion page creates a dialog with an extensive, and sometimes unexpected audience. If your writing employs grandiose statements, generalizations and crass language, you can respect the same attitude in return.

Don't be too humble. This is your opinion, and you chose to share it for a reason. If you seem halfhearted or unsure, it will be immediately obvious to the reader and you will have a hard time persuading them.

Respect the medium and the people affected by it. If the opinion is baseless, snide or overtly offensive, it reflects the same qualities on the publication itself. It is irrelevant that the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the publisher." It does not matter if the publisher agrees with the viewpoint, because printing anything in a newspaper informs the public that you consider it newsworthy.

When writing or publishing an opinion column, take time to consider what the opinion means for the writer, publisher, newspaper and community. Do not publish things that are potentially dangerous or incomplete just to fill space, and do not assume something is good enough to publish just because it's an opinion.

Courtney Francis is a digital artist with several years of design and print media experience, and she is a consultant for J&S Solutions, a firm that services student media outlets. Learn more about student media consulting and how J&S Solutions can help your publication at

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