Elance Blog

Writing Opinion and Persuasive Pieces: One More Time, with Feeling!

Ever since an opinion piece I wrote for my high school paper, The Proconian, and won an award from the state press association, I’ve been hooked on the op/ed page.

But many people aren’t. And that’s too bad, because whether they’re for a print publication, a blog or vlog, a broad- or podcast, opinion pieces are free advertising for your ideas. The genre is a great way to advocate for a cause you care about, shape a debate you’re invested in or spread the word about something important to you. You’re missing an opportunity!

I’ve delivered enough workshops on this topic to know that one big reason people don’t utilize this form more is because they’re afraid. Afraid of being disagreed with publicly. Afraid they’ll tick someone off. Afraid they won’t sound as smart as they think they are. Afraid that they're so worked up about the topic that they won't be able to be calm, rational and influential.

Well, it’s time to exorcise those demons!

First, let’s start with some criteria to describe effective opinion and persuasive pieces. My partner, Steve Peha, and I just did a workshop on this topic last weekend and the list didn’t change in any meaningful way. It never does. But you should feel free to take a few pieces that resonated with you and develop your own list.

The Word Factory’s Gold Standards for Opinion & Persuasive Writing

  • Has a thoughtful and engaging beginning.
  • Has a unique point of view or adds unique depth to an existing one.
  • Includes appropriate details (examples, explanations and evidence).
  • Lets the audience know why they should care and/or what they should do.
  • References a timely news hook, event, or circumstance.
  • Presents a confident, respectful, and authoritative persona.
  • Uses tone and vocabulary that’s appropriate for social, cultural, and communal aspects of the audience.
  • Excludes jargon, unless the audience and outlet are industry-specific.
  • Favors simple sentences over complex ones, and shorter sentences over longer ones.
  • Avoids snark.
  • Acknowledges other perspectives when appropriate and where space or time allows.
  • Ends with a big finish: a call to action or point to ponder.

We like the Gold Standards concept because it gives us a bar to shoot for in terms of quality. Whatever we produce should meet these standards along with the intended outlet's submission requirements.

Now you can start working up your copy. It’s as easy as 1-2-3:

1. Distill your purpose: Take a second to dig deeply into your purpose: the two or three things you want your audience to think or do after they finish your piece. Write these on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall by your computer. This is what you tell your audience so they know why they should care and/or what they should do. Stay focused on it as you write so you can avoid extraneous details that dilute can your message. Many opinion and persuasive pieces start with a think and end with a do.

2. Write to a person: Now consider your audience. Who are you writing to? Who's the person or persons who can most effect the change you want to see or drive the results you want to achieve? Who cares the most? Who will come along? Or who needs to hear this message the most? It's best to pick one person or group as your target. Visualize them. As you write, remember that you're "talking" to them, and choose the words and ideas that will resonate with them the most -- while accurately conveying your purpose. It's also a good idea to think about the questions they might have about your topic. Write these down, too. All this will help you use a voice that’s authoritative and respectful, and vocabulary that’s appropriate for and easily understood by your audience.

3. Include the right ideas: With a clear purpose, you can craft a main idea: one sentence that conveys the most important thing you want your audience to know. Don't worry about making it the best sentence ever at first – this is only pre-writing. Just make it clear and concise. Then choose three to five key details that really back-up this main idea. Think about the evidence, examples and explanations your audience will need to "get" what you're saying. Then look back at those questions your audience might have. If any need answering, include those details in your three to five. Jot down a few bullet points to see how the details feel in writing. Doing this will help you develop a clear point of view that’s well supported by information your audience finds relevant.

Planning your piece in this way gets a lot of the thrashing and gnashing of teeth out of the way so you can draft faster. You’ll have plenty of time to hone your details and pretty up those sentences so they really impact your audience.

Want more details and a step-by-step approach to pulling it all together? Click here for a free download of our latest opinion-writing workshop handouts.

About the Author:
Margot Carmichael Lester is the owner of The Word Factory, a content and creative company in Carrboro, N.C. She blogs daily on writing, PR and anything else that gets her dander up at www.thewordfactory.com. She’s currently working on Be A Better Writer: Corporate Edition the follow-up to Be A Better Writer: Power Tools for Young Writers, which won a gold medal from the Independent Publishers Association in 2007. Follow Margot: @margot_lester and @word_factory.