How to Write An Opinion Column
Writing an opinion column for a newspaper or magazine offers the chance to air your feelings about a hot topic -- and maybe even influence public opinion. Effective columns share clarity of thought, consistency of tone and concrete examples to frame the central argument. If you can demonstrate these qualities in 750 words or less, you've likely crafted a publication-worthy piece.
Be Brief and Timely
Before you begin, consider whether your main theme fits the 750-word limit that most publications prefer, Duke University's News and Communications Office advises. Use short, punchy sentences and active verbs to make your key points. Avoid long paragraphs that cause readers' eyes to wander. Also, remember how quickly news cycles move when you write. An editor probably won't consider a column on the celebrity who died three weeks ago, for example.
Grab Readers' Attention
According to Duke's guidelines, a typical reader takes 10 seconds to decide whether he will read your column. That's why your first line needs a "hook" -- such as a metaphor, strong counterclaim or unusual fact -- that outlines your argument and invites a reader to learn more. For example, if your piece contests negative assumptions of property taxes, your hook should contain an anecdote or fact that indicates how you'll challenge such beliefs.
Offer Specific Recommendations
An opinion column does more than describe an issue. For example, a piece about environmental poisoning should offer proposals for alleviating the problem, rather than saying that more research is needed, Duke's guidelines state. Similarly, if you criticize a business or public agency, explain what the organization should do differently. If you're a business owner or public official, expect scrutiny about your column's relevancy, and any professional or financial interests that you hold, "The New York Times" states.
Provide a Strong Ending
Save the most powerful detail for your conclusion, which generally echoes your introduction and calls the reader to some kind of action, according to writing tips from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Most columns finish with a closed ending that offers a resolution of the problem or issue you're describing. A less common approach is the open ending, in which the solution is inferred, but not explicitly described.
Read your column aloud before submitting it. According to Harvard University's writing tips, this method is the best way of determining whether your words are coming across as you intend, and whether the tone and voice you're using are suitable for the publication. Also, stay open to all options in the revision process. As "The New York Times" states, you may find a chart, graphic or series of photos that makes your point as effectively as the written word.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.