Your point of view: Writing Perspective, Opinion and Commentary articles
Academic writing isn’t just scientific; it can also be about expressing your views on a topic or field of interest. Journal articles that come in this category of ‘viewpoint writing’ include perspective articles, opinion articles and commentary (or simply, comment) articles. This article explains the nature of each article, along with some tips for writing each.
Perspective article explained
In an academic context, a perspective article is usually a scholarly response to recently published research, which could be research in the form of one or multiple articles from the last year or so, or a book, conference or debate. Ideally, a perspective article should offer new insights or put forward new directions along the lines of which the published research might, in future studies, be continued further in scope. It might also bring in new data or early research that the responding author has done to support their perspective. This type of article might also mention quite a few sources – either academic or other general media platforms, or possibly even both – on the issue.
Opinion article explained
An opinion article is also a response to previously published research and usually offers constructive criticism of existing work. An opinion article should therefore acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses and offer support for those assessments. As with other types of academic writing, opinion pieces are designed to provoke a discussion by challenging current understanding on a particular issue or topic.
Commentary article explained
A commentary article (popularly called a comment piece) is usually a commissioned response to a particular article. Often, the journal will initiate this ‘discussion’ by approaching an expert to write a commentary that offers a critique of the initial article. The original author is also then invited to write a ‘rejoinder’, which is a defence of their research or rebuttal on the commentary. All three pieces then appear in the same journal: the article towards the front, and the commentary and rejoinder at the back.
Viewpoint articles: Similarities and differences
- A perspective article is often longer than the others, spanning 2,000–4,000 words depending on the journal that publishes it. The title should also clearly indicate that this is a perspective article. The article nearly always includes an abstract and may be written by more than one author. It may draw on substantial literature and is therefore written by authors with considerable experience.
- An opinion article can be very similar to a perspective article and may also mention literature. However, it is usually shorter (around 2,000 words) and often with a shorter abstract. It can sometimes be more ‘journalistic’ in its style than the other types.
- A commentary is usually even shorter (around 1,000 words) and is focused on the initial article or an issue raised by that article. Hence, it usually does not have an abstract. The discussion it seeks to start can be quite provocative. This type of contribution is therefore written by well-established academics who are unafraid to express their assessment very openly and sometimes even quite aggressively.
Note: While these differences are illustrative, it can be difficult sometimes (especially in a practical sense, such as when reading such articles) to discern much difference between a perspective article and an opinion article.
Knowing your audience for viewpoint articles
These articles are often written with a broader audience in mind than what is typical for a journal article. They are therefore usually more reader-friendly and less technical.
- A perspective article and an opinion piece are written with the understanding that their audience is possibly unfamiliar with the material presented. It is therefore necessary to provide sufficient context and information for the audience to engage with the ideas that are promoted within the piece.
- A commentary article is written with the understanding that the original article is usually also in the current (or recent) edition of the journal. The writer therefore does not need to devote a significant amount of space towards summarising the original but can go straight in with their opinion or commentary on a certain aspect or aspects within that article.
Understanding the journal requirements for viewpoint pieces
As with any academic article, each journal will have their own specific requirements for each of these types of articles.
- If you are writing a perspective article or an opinion piece, make sure you contact the journal beforehand (such as through a presubmission inquiry) to see if they would be interested in publishing your proposed piece, and once you have a green signal from the journal, carefully check their requirements (such as through their Information for Authors section) before you commence your writing process.
- For a commentary article, as already mentioned, a journal usually reaches out to the author(s) to commission the piece.
Examples of viewpoint articles
- Perspective article: Find a short piece here.
- Opinion article: Read a rather long piece here.
- Commentary (and rejoinder): Read the original article, a number of comments and the author’s rejoinder here.
For ease of reference, here’s a table that outlines the essential differences among the three types of viewpoint articles.
|Feature||Perspective article||Opinion article||Commentary article|
|Focus||Usually a scholarly response to recently published research||Usually offers constructive criticism of existing work||Usually a commissioned response to a published article – and typically appearing with a rejoinder|
|Audience||Written with the understanding that the audience is possibly unfamiliar with the original article||Written with the understanding that the audience is possibly unfamiliar with the original article||Written with the understanding that the audience is familiar with the source material as the material often appears in the same issue|
|Initiated by||Author(s) interested in a particular topic/field||Author(s) interested in a particular topic/field||Journal editor interested in fostering a debate on a newly published topic|
|Length||Often the longest of the three (2,000–4,000 words)||Usually shorter than a perspective article but longer than a commentary (2,000 words)||Usually the shortest of the three (1,000 words)|
|Style||Offers new insights or aims to provide new directions||More ‘journalistic’||Usually expressive and even ‘aggressive’ with the aim to foster a debate|
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