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How to Write a Science Opinion Article
Many of the controversies in today’s society have a scientific angle. Climate change, Covid restrictions, abortion, and more – each of these thorny issues is a mix of science and politics. Never has there been a better time for scientists to weigh in by writing a science opinion article.
But, how do you write high-quality science opinion articles? You can follow the basics of blog writing, but there is more to it. You must develop a compelling point of view backed up by the right amount of science.
Make Your Thesis Clear
“Opinion” is the critical ingredient of any opinion piece. Scientists are often slow to deliver a firm and specific opinion and instead prefer vaguely suggesting what they do and don’t like. Just because your stance is clear to you doesn’t mean it is clear to your reader.
How can you improve the clarity of your science opinion writing? Decide on a thesis. Yes, like high school English class, but not quite as formulaic. Put your thesis in the first paragraphs and again in the last couple of paragraphs. Your arguments should be clearly connected to your thesis. People rarely criticize writing for being too clear.
A strong thesis statement has the following features:
- States a position: where do you stand on the topic? For, opposed, somewhere in-between? General statements such as “Climate change is controversial” is not a real thesis.
- Clear and direct: this is not the place for qualifying language or ambiguous structure. A wishy-washy thesis will confuse the reader and undermine the rest of your content.
- Connected to the rest of the article: everything in your thesis should be explained in the article, and everything in the article should tie back to supporting the thesis.
As you become more experienced as a writer, you will be able to build hybrid explainer-essay-opinion articles that explore the science and examine opinions from multiple angles. This type of writing has numerous moving parts that must be carefully assembled. A simple structure executed well is better than a complex structure poorly executed.
While your thesis should be the star of your science opinion writing, you must also bring the science.
When writing for the public, most of your readers know far less about the topic than you, and almost no one will check the underlying sources. If you get the science wrong, you will misinform all your readers. Even if you are a casual blogger, your reader might not know this, so put effort into getting things right.
If you happen to be writing a science opinion article for a school assignment, you have the opposite problem. Whoever is grading your paper probably knows more about the science than you. Building your argument on inaccurate facts will likely cost a lot of marks, even if your writing is impeccable.
Beyond simple inaccuracy, one of the most common mistakes is blowing results out of proportion. A controversial paper comes out, and suddenly everyone throws opinions around like a food fight. This type of writing will almost always put too much weight on the results of one specific paper, which might be underdeveloped. Avoid this reflexive posture when possible, or at least emphasize that the science is early.
Alternatively, you can cherry-pick your science. Imagine you were writing about animal agriculture and climate change. You could find some research results to back up any position you wanted to take. Deciding on your opinion, then backfilling with low-quality journals is not responsible science writing. Do your research, then take a position.
Do Not Get Lost in the Science
Getting your science right is critical, but you can’t let it distract from your argument. Many scientists love to explore technical nuances or fascinating curiosities. While getting overly technical is a mistake in all science writing, it is particularly off-key in opinion writing.
Imagine you are writing an opinion piece on the availability of puberty blockers for a mainstream newspaper. You probably have less than 1,000 words to work with (about as long as this blog). Not only that, the majority of your readers probably know very little about the subject. Spending 500 words describing the details of the biochemistry will distract from your main point.
Imagine you were given 2,000 words to write about puberty blockers in a transgender rights web publication. Most of your readers will be familiar with the fundamentals of the issue, and you have more real estate to develop your ideas. You can fit more science in if it supports the core argument.
Even if you are writing for your personal blog where there are no word count limitations, I’d recommend keeping things short. While step-by-step guides or in-depth may need to be long, opinion pieces should be tight and punchy. That means your discussion of the science should only cover the necessities.
Sharpen Your Science Opinion Article Writing
Scientists are often slow to share their thoughts on current events. Maybe academics think they can keep their heads down and focus on research, leaving the politics to politicians. Rather than enter the fray directly, they hope the best science will rise to the top on its own.
This approach is naïve. Non-experts will misrepresent the science to achieve whatever goals they see fit. Academics may be loath to politicize science, but science is already politicized. Real experts should engage in these controversies head-on to guide public opinion.