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Zoya Patel on writing opinion that matters

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23 April 2021

At the Library's Teen writing boot camp in April 2021, writer and editor Zoya Patel taught teens how to construct their ideas, research and opinions into compelling non-fiction writing. Here she shares some tips and reflections from the third boot camp on Thursday 22 April.

I write a weekly opinion column for a local website in Canberra, and it’s both one of the most enjoyable things I do and one of the hardest. The hard part is trying to determine what to write each week that will be interesting to readers, relevant to our city, and that I genuinely have a strong opinion on.

The fun part is writing irreverently about things that interest me, without having to be as formal and interrogative as if I was writing a feature or news piece.

But as much as I enjoy writing relatively frivolous pieces about my pets and my neighborhoods, I do think that opinion writing has a bigger role to play when it comes to our communities. Good opinion writing can challenge the status quo, and encourage readers to broaden their mindsets.

Writing opinion that matters is really about understanding what matters in your community. It means listening to the people around you, and learning what excites them, annoys them and motivates them.

It’s about examining current affairs and big news and trying to think about them from a different angle, drilling down into the way that big topics can have a genuine impact in people’s lives.

A good trick when it comes to starting an opinion piece is to frame your topic as a question, and then set out to answer that question. For example, you could ask ‘is it wrong to keep eating meat when meat production is harming the environment’? And then drill further into this – what about the health concerns for people who can’t eat a vegetarian diet? Are there other, more effective ways for us to address the environmental crisis that aren’t just about ending meat production? What about the animal welfare concerns?

Often, as you start writing, you might find that your opinion changes entirely with the more questions you ask and answer!

However, be wary of putting your opinion ahead of the facts and research that should underpin all non-fiction writing. At the end of the day, the truth is more important than your personal opinion, and good opinion writing is always balanced while still being challenging to the status quo.

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