When you have something to say, an opinion/editorial (often referred to as an “op-ed”) can be the ideal vehicle for sharing your message. Op-eds allow people at theheart of an issue to further explain it, or provide context that traditional, fact-basedjournalism may lack. Op-eds are meant to inform and, often, persuade readers to think or act a certain way. In today’s noisy, polarized environment, changing minds or motivating people to act is a heavy lift. Op-eds must be skillfully crafted to haveeven a chance of meeting that lofty objective. For skilled writers, putting opinions to paper is easy, with words effortlessly flowing from mind to keyboard. For others, trying to make a convincing argument, often in fewer than 700 words, is one of the toughest assignments they will undertake. It can seem overwhelming, but breaking the process down into steps makes it easier.
Here are five tips for writing op-eds that get published:
1. Take a side: This is the opinion section. No one gets away with straddling the fence on an issue in an op-ed; the whole point is to present a point of view. Decide what you most want readers to know or learn, and figuratively punch them in the face with it. Be direct, and take a clear, unambiguous position on a relevant, interesting topic. Not only is candor more attractive to readers, but editors are more likely to publish op-eds that take bold or unexpected positions on the issues of the day. Conversely, op-eds that ramble on or struggle to make a point until four paragraphs in face long odds of ever showing up in print.
2. Tell a story: Numbers and statistics are helpful in proving your case, but citing too many of them without a larger, overarching storyline won’t capture readers. Take readers on a journey. A good op-ed should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think of it like this: if you had to explain a subject to a 10 year-old, how would you do it? Most likely, you would use simple language that paints a vivid picture. Readers won’t necessarily remember facts and figures, but they will remember a good story. A great op-ed combines the best of both verifiable data and a “hook” that makes readers want to stick with it.
3. Prove it: Yes, tell a story, but back up your arguments with facts, preferably those from an objective third-party, or at least a credible person or organization. Even if your citations are not used in print, it gives editors confidence you are basing your argument on accurate information.
4. Make it personal: This could also be called the “who cares?” test. Good data is less than convincing if it fails to tell readers why this issue matters to real people. Are jobs or livelihoods at risk? Could an hour-long commute suddenly become a 15- minute commute if a road is built? Good op-eds give readers examples of why this issue is (or should be) important to them. An op-ed that fails to elicit concern or even interest is destined for the proverbial recycling bin.
5. Finish strong: Just like a footrace, you don’t want to lose steam at the end. To finish an op-ed strong, hit hard. If you spent the previous paragraphs making a nuanced case for someone or something, now is the time to say so explicitly. Ask for action. What do you want readers to do with this information they (hopefully) have been persuaded by? Are you asking them to vote a certain way? Contribute to a cause? Make a phone call? Or simply visit a website for more information? Say so, and make it punchy. Readers should come away from reading an op-ed with no confusion about what is being asked of them, and why they are being asked to do it.
The goal of an effective op-ed should be to spark discussion and debate, and facilitate a healthy exchange of ideas. Clear, concise writing that tells a compelling story and lays out a logical argument remains one of the most powerful tools of persuasion available to writers.