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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds When writing an opinion piece, there are different ways to present your argument, and I want to focus your attention on three specific ways that you can do that. The first way, and I’ve talked already about it in the theory lecture, is the one-sided versus two-sided argument. So you’ve already learned from the theory lecture about the research evidence of which type of argument is more effective, basically that both types of arguments are effective depending on who you’re talking to basically. But here I want to talk about how specifically to write a one-sided versus a two-sided opinion piece. So when you’re writing a one-sided opinion piece, you’re only talking about, obviously, one side of the argument.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds So say, for example, you are writing an opinion piece on recycling and how much households - and you are supporting the argument that citizens should be recycling more. So you’re for recycling, and you are writing a one-sided argument. In this case, you would be talking only about the benefits of recycling. You would be talking about how much it helps the environment, of how much money it saves the local and the national economy by not producing new materials but recycling old ones. You could also be talking about how much trash is not going into the ground because it’s being recycled. So the one side is mainly the benefits of recycling.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds You could be against recycling, in which case you would be talking only about the drawbacks of that practice. However, if you’re doing a two-sided argument piece, then you’ll be talking about both the pros and the cons of the process. So you could still talk about the benefits of it, so saving money, saving the environment, maybe making you feel good and making you feel like a good citizen, which is a psychological benefit, which should not be overlooked. But you could also talk about some negative sides of recycling, and that would be your counter argument. So on the negative side maybe you could say that yes, it’s all good, but it’s pretty inconvenient.

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 seconds And you have to think about it on a daily basis of where to put certain recycling. You also have to sort it. So it’s not as easy as many people think. Maybe your local municipality is not equipped with handling all the recycling that actually citizens bring. So if they’re struggling to cope with all the recycling, then that would be a negative. You may find maybe it’s more expensive to recycle because you need special bins or other accommodations to do it properly. So again, if you present the pros and cons of an argument, then you would be writing a two-sided message on the topic. Another way in which you can present your argument is through the authoritative editorial.

Skip to 3 minutes and 27 seconds So in this case, if you’re writing an authoritative editorial, you as the author take the role of the authority on the issue. And you must research the topic really well so that you could really accept and adopt this voice of the expert on the topic. And then you would write an editorial, you would write a piece that would reflect all the research that you’ve done and all the things that you know about the topic. So for example, if you’re writing the editorial on global warming, or climate change as we now call it, regardless of which side of the argument you take, if you decide to write an authoritative editorial on that, you would have done a lot of research.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 seconds You would have pulled a lot of statistics and a lot of data on the topic. And then you would write it almost as an expert. You would put all the arguments there for and against most likely. You would have numbers and data, and you would take a more official tone with that writing, which is often typical of experts and a less emotional tone of writing.

Skip to 4 minutes and 39 seconds And so you would write, again, an authoritative piece that discusses the history of the problem, maybe where the problem is headed in the future, and its current state in terms of finances, in terms of public support, in terms of current arguments for and against, supporters and opposers of the issue, and basically explore the topic from all angles, from all major angles, and do it in a way that’s comprehensive. The final way to present your argument that I want to talk about is the reductio ad absurdum editorial. This is actually a pretty fun way to state your opinion and to write an editorial.

Skip to 5 minutes and 29 seconds It basically means that you take a current situation, something that you’ve observed that you think is not right and is actually kind of ridiculous, and you take this ridiculousness of the situation a step further.

Skip to 5 minutes and 49 seconds So you point out basically the ridiculousness of the situation by pushing further the limits of its absurdity. And so as you develop your argument, you take every time with every paragraph, basically, with every new idea, you push it a logical step further. And this, while it’s logical, it gets more and more absurd. And in the end of your editorial, the proposed idea that you end up with is so outrageous and off the wall that people start to see the absurdity and the ridiculousness of the original situation that you started with.

Skip to 6 minutes and 31 seconds So for example, a few years ago I wrote such an editorial about a common practice back in my home country, of politicians playing football as a way to boost their ratings. So they would don a football t-shirt of some of the football club of the town that they were in, and then they would go and kick a few balls on the pitch as a way to get better ratings by the locals. And to me that was a pretty absurd way to do politics. And so I took the situation and I pushed it a step further and further.

Skip to 7 minutes and 13 seconds So for example, I talked about, OK, so next time when the mayor wants to have a meeting with the town, instead of having an actual meeting, let’s all just meet on the pitch. And he would have a game and he would kick a few balls, and then things would get decided. Or the cabinet, the prime minister and all the cabinet members, instead of them meeting in their official offices to do business, they can again meet on the pitch. And they can have a game, a friendly game and whoever wins, people go with the way that they have proposed to do business.

Skip to 7 minutes and 51 seconds And so I pushed this further and further, and in the end, my final argument was so the World Cup actually instead of being a football event, could actually be a political event. So similar to the United Nations or the World Bank or the G7 gatherings where all these countries participating in the World Cup actually solve their political and economic problems simply by playing football. And so by this time, you see the absurdity of that proposal of that situation. And so the idea is that by seeing where this practise can take you, if you actually follow it, you start to realise a little bit of the absurdity of the initial situation that prompted this editorial.

Ways to present your argument

The video discussed three different ways to present your argument in opinion writing. Here are some examples of each type of writing.

The one-sided message vs. two-sided message

Here is a well written editorial from The Guardian, which mixes one-sided and two sided elements. The author’s opinion is clearly one sided (he presents his view that Prime Minister David Cameron “should do what he feels like”) and he supports it with examples and a good argument. But he also presents other cases of unsuccessful engagement with football, which offer an alternative to his mostly positive illustrations.

The authoritative editorial

Here is an example of an authoritative editorial from The Express Tribune in Pakistan, where the author presents a strong opinion about the role and purpose of journalism in her country and then supports it with facts, examples, and background. She writes in a straight-forward and expert style by presenting a lot of additional information, numbers, links, she cites reports and overall creates the impression that she is knowledgeable on the subject matter. All of the above make her tone of writing authoritative and a good example for this style of opinion writing.

The reductio ad absurdum editorial

This is an example of a reductio ad absurdum editorial from The New York Times. The author takes the event of the pending bill permitting guns on university campuses in Idaho, USA and expresses his opinion of it by presenting an absurd scenario that may follow. By tracing the logic of his argument and where his absurd scenario takes us, it becomes clear what his opinion of the bill is.

Here is another example of reductio ad absurdum from the Press-Citizen in Iowa City, Iowa, USA. It discusses the issue of undergraduate recruitment at a large public university in Iowa and proposes the absurd idea that the university has hired clowns to be liked better by potential students. The mocking tone of the editorial is clear in the pretend quotes by the clowns but the criticism is clear and stinging in the quotes “People have to realize that college is one big joke to the kids” and “All the kids want is a good time and a diploma.”

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Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde