How to Write a Thinkpiece Without Doing Any Work


In the wake of the stunning success of Chris Masters’s exposé on Alan Jones, many journalists and opinionistas have looked on in jealousy, and asked themselves: What is the formula for his completely undeserved success?

The answer is, of course, that Masters spent years rigourously researching his topic fact-checking, interviewing people, even going to libraries and reading books.



Of course, the modern pundit doesn’t want to have to engage in such a laborious (not to mention unprofitable) process. Which is why I have written this easy-to-use guide about how to write a thinkpiece in less than one hour.

The most important part of being a pundit is to never actually believe in anything. Robust opinion is a game, not a lifestyle. Thinkpiece writing is all about the performance. Choose your persona and stick to it. Never change. It may be involve a black skivvy and alcoholism, or a rumpled appearance and alcoholism, or even a straight-laced, bow-tie look and a raging ice habit. But this must never change for the next 30 years so choose wisely.

Then, for maximum readership engagement, out one of your colleagues. For example, you could intimate that Steve Irwin was gay. The thinkpiece world is a vicious world, subtly accusing your competitors of doing too much research, and ultimately being a paedophile, is a good way of standing out.

The best thinkpieces often just join in with a pre-existing feeding frenzy. If you were to do one this week, then you would do it on the Sheik or Carl Scully, or perhaps a moralising piece about Madonna. Just make sure that it’s about people who can’t attack back.

The main point about being a good pundit is to be ahead of the curve but only just. Thus, for your research, whereas Googling is nowadays considered passé, using is incredibly in. As an added bonus, has a great function which pre-loads the search results into your browser, which means that you can see websites without clicking through. This will massively decrease your ‘clicks per research unit’ ratio, and shave whole minutes off your research time.

But before you do any research, it is important to choose the publication you’re wanting to be published in. Is it New Matilda or is it Quadrant? This is important because it will affect where you put the word ‘not’ in each sentence.

Next, mention Keith Windschuttle. This will make the piece timely, and by mentioning him, you will instantly galvanise half your audience against you, and guarantee many link-backs to your blog. (You do have a blog, don’t you?) If you’re wanting to be really controversial, damn Windschuttle with faint praise which will mean that both sides of politics will instantly hate you.

Depending on the topic, it is also often a good idea to mention the Lowy Institute. This will make you appear like you have read some of their stuff. Note however, if your topic is football, it is unlikely that you will be able dredge up any quotes from Michael Fullilove about the topic (this being the only topic Fullilove hasn’t written about on in the past twelve months).

In terms of being ahead of the curve, nothing can be more ‘avant curve’ than being ‘post-climate change.’

Your line should be that you convinced Graham Richardson about climate change back in 1987, and ever since then you’ve just been looking on and shaking your head in sadness.

If you’re really scraping the barrel, you could vigorously disagree with Ryan Heath’s book F*** Off Baby Boomers, It’s Our Turn. Although doing this was very ‘last week,’ it might work if you engineer a kind of post-backlash backlash where the book fades into the background while you discuss only the discussion around it. Not only would this make your article deliciously postmodern, but it would also mean that you wouldn’t have to read his book.

Charles Firth’s recently published, American Hoax (Pan-Macmillan)

Also, any good thinkpiece writer, wanting to stay ahead, should mention some sort of obscure international travel. For example, you could tell your readers that you’ve just returned from Baluchistan and mention, in passing, that it’s the ‘new Morocco.’ Even if you’re dying to expand on this topic, don’t. The cursory nature of the observation will give the über-trendy pundit-like impression that you’re so over Baluchistani politics.

Remember, a thinkpiece is not about this or that topic, it’s all about you. To really make it, you need a really intriguing byline. Here are some suggestions:

Charles Firth invented the blog;

Charles Firth has recently made a documentary on female genital mutilation in Baluchistan; or

Charles Firth is the creative advisor for the Innovation Board of Queensland.

And if you’re wanting to be really provocative, you could take the position that whichever Muslim cleric has recently made supportive comments towards rape, is indeed correct. But do this only if you’re willing to then back up that opinion with an even more anti-Muslim angle.

Another trick is to attack a well-known national treasure, for example Jack Mundy or Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell. If you do this, however, make sure you check that day’s Miranda Devine column in case she’s got in first. Once they have been sufficiently attacked, rewrite history to claim credit for whatever it is the national treasure did. (For hints on rewriting history, please refer back to the section on Keith Windschuttle.)

If you’re still stuck for word length, just claim that the one thing Gough Whitlam got right was East Timor, and cite that what’s happening in there at the moment as proof that he got it right.

At some point towards the end of the article, emphasise that although you traditionally come from a certain side of politics, your beliefs are so incoherent and unstructured, that it feels as if you’re thoughts are so subtle and refined that to mere mortals it comes across as a rigourous argument. If you need help with that last sentence or this type of punditing, Christopher Hitchens is currently running a training course.

In his course, Hitchens provides many ideas for topics for the modern pundit. Feel free to use any of these and make them your own:

  • A revisionist piece on nepotism which argues that it was only through nepotism that England became a world power;
  • Arguing against the existence of a Right Wing Machine;
  • A conspiracy theory piece which implies that Bob Brown killed Jimi Hendrix;
  • Attack the idea that a think piece needs to be orderly.

Phraselets like meta, proto, neo and beyond all add sophistication without adding meaning to your think piece, you may liberally use this to define new terms and immediately make your article far more ‘neo-proto.’

If all else fails, attack Aborigines.

At the end of the piece declare that the fee from your piece is going to fund breast cancer research, or the orphanage in Kenya that you’re setting up. Then, if anyone ever attacks you about your article, you can accuse them of being pro-breast cancer, or anti-orphan.

Finally, always end abruptly.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.