Engaging with a Contemporary Issue
Your first assignment gives you the chance to engage with a contemporary issue in New Zealand’s foreign or security affairs (broadly understood). It also challenges you to write concisely and in an interesting and engaging style. These are important skills that will be useful whether you go on to further study or to work in government or the private sector.
What makes for a good op-ed or blog piece? Good popular writing on contemporary strategic issues is an art. A good op-ed should grab the reader’s attention, make an argument and support it with some evidence – all in the space of about 800-1000 words. Writing 800 words is easy. Writing something insightful, informative and interesting in 800 words is much more difficult. Don’t underestimate the work involved in a good op-ed or blog post.
The first thing you need to do is find an interesting, preferably timely issue. Pick something that’s in the news – a new policy announcement or important speech, a development in relations between another country and New Zealand, the appointment of a new minister, the impact of COVID on some aspect of New Zealand’s international interests – and make an argument about it. Is the policy or speech saying something new? Are we seeing a consequential shift in relations between NZ and another country? Why? Why is X an issue people should be aware of? You are welcome to interpret foreign, strategic or security issues broadly – it could be about military developments, foreign policy, geo-economics, links between trade and strategy, indigenous politics - the only requirement is that it engages with New Zealand foreign, defence or security interests in some way.
There is no one way to write an op-ed or blog, but it must be interesting and well-argued. Try and open with a ‘hook’ – something catchy and appealing that will draw in the reader. Then outline your main point –make it clear early what the piece is about. Try and stick to one main argument, or sometimes you can say, this speech tells us three things about US-China relations. You only have 800-1000 words so don’t overdo it. Then back it up with evidence or points that support your main argument. Remember you are writing for a popular audience (say in a newspaper or blog), so you don’t need to throw in academic jargon, theory or lots of references (please do footnote any quotations). Try and make it fun and interesting.