Monday, October 3, 2011

Opinion Writing Assignment

ASSIGNMENT: The requirements for the “opinion piece” are very simple. Write an essay of at least 500 words (it can be longer) giving your opinion about something and send me your first draft by midnight Wednesday as a Word document attached to a message. I will return it with corrections and suggestions as usual, and the final draft will be due at midnight Sunday. While I have been as flexible as I can on the deadlines, my advice is not to  leave it to the last minute. If you do the assignment  in a timely fashion you should find this to be  interesting and engaging..
Rules for Writing Opinion Pieces
Unfortunately, there are no rules, though I will give you the best pieces of advice I can in a minute. There are probably as many different ways of writing an editorial, a column or a review as there are people doing it. Nearly all of the people who write opinion articles for newspapers, magazines, Internet publications, television, radio, and so on are people who have been reporting in these field for many years, and have long since developed their own methods of approaching and writing about a topic.
 Nonetheless you are probably going to be called on to do more opinion writing in the next two or three years than you will be in the next twenty. You will be asked to present an argument in essays on the SAT, on AP English tests, and you can bet your house that it will be one of your assignments you get in English 1, which will undoubtedly be a mandatory course in whatever university you attend. Moreover, many of the questions asked on college-level essay exams require what is basically an “opinion piece” as the answer. So you may as well get started on them now.
The emphasis on expressing opinion in tests and college English courses is the result of the discovery in the United States a few years ago that the majority of high school students were incapable of presenting and supporting even a simple argument in writing. This assignment will give you a chance to show that this particular criticism does not apply to you – or, if it does, we can get started on correcting it. Up to now, however, I have felt that my major problem was getting many of you to leave your opinion out of the news and sports stories we have been doing. I don’t think that most of you will have any problem putting your personal opinions and attitudes back in.  
Happily, the advice for writing an opinion piece is much the same as writing anything else. (You may want to refresh your memory of the basics of writing by re-reading “How To Write Anything,” which was one of the first articles posted on, and is still there.) Your first task is to get the reader’s attention by saying something interesting and engaging. This is a little more important in opinion writing because most readers will feel that they don’t really have to read your opinion. (After all, they already have their own opinion – why do they need yours?) So it’s especially important to “hook them” in some clever way.
 Sometimes the best way to do this is the simplest: Start with a succinct statement of your opinion. (This is especially true when you are writing with a time deadline, such as the SAT essay, where you should usually start by responding to the prompt.) 
Then you have to tell the readers what your opinion is, and why your opinion should be important to them. (Usually you are arguing, basically, that your opinion is better informed, or in some other way superior to, the one they already have.)This is the equivalent of telling the reader what your article is about, and why it is significant.
That completes the first part, or “top” of your article.
The rest consists of presenting your argument in logical fashion, together with the principal evidence supporting it. Add a snappy conclusion -- and you’re done. Easy as that.
Maybe not quite that easy. I have glossed over one very important part of the process: Coming up with an idea. If you are a columnist writing a daily column, or even three a week, this can be the major problem. I am assuming that all of you already have at least one subject that you have strong opinions about (or could easily develop them). I am leaving the choice of the kind of opinion piece you could write as broad as possible. Here are some of the possibilities:
A column – This is a personal essay giving your opinion on some situation that is facing the school, the city, the nation, or the world. If you want to see some examples of columns, pick up an El Deber and to the section in the back entitled “Los Collaboradores.” But almost any publication you read will have some opinion columns in it. Some publications have opinion pieces that are written without by-lines and are intended to represent the position of the publication itself, as a corporate citizen.  These are called “editorials.”
You can pick virtually any topic – your opinion of how the government has handled the Tipnis situation, the war in Afghanistan, the decision to close schools in Santa Cruz because of the flu, the difficulty of finding a parking place in downtown Santa Cruz, the problem of how to reduce smoke in the air in and around Santa Cruz, the school uniform policy. Anything you have thought about and have an opinion on. (It will be easier and more interesting if you write about something you really care about.)   
 I have written several columns recently about life in Santa Cruz that might also give you ideas. They were for the “e-zine” of a website for people living here who are from another country. Here are the URLs:
 A review – This is an essay in which a “critic” gives his or her opinion about . . . well, almost anything.  There are reviews of movies, books, buildings, paintings, television shows, and the list goes on. If I were doing this assignment (and I might because it sounds like so much fun) I would go to a movie and then write a review or opinion piece saying what I thought of it. If you want to know what movie review is like go to the Internet Movie Data Base ( and look up the page for any movie, such as, perhaps, the one you just saw. Go to the bottom of the page to the “Learn More . . . .” section, and click on “external reviews” under “Opinion,” and – voila! – there are links to perhaps 50 different reviews. You will quickly see that there are as many ways to review a movie as there are reviewers. Don’t feel like leaving your house?   Write a review of one of the new TV series coming on now. Or, if worse comes to absolute worst, read a book and review that.
 WARNING – While you may do as much research as you wish on the Internet, do not under any circumstances download and present as your own work a review (or anything else) written by somebody else. This is plagiarism and the penalty for doing so is very severe