Writing is a bit distinct from other intellectual activities. Reading makes us understand, discussion deepens things and writing sharpens. Writing an op-ed article makes a writer get to millions of people, sway hearts, change minds and perhaps even remold public policy. In the process, you may also acquire recognition for yourself and your institution.
Yet to be good at writing op-ed articles, some guidelines are necessary to consider.
First, track the news and jump at opportunities. Timing is important. When an issue is dominant in the news — whether it’s a stock market panic, a war or just the recent controversy on a reality TV show — that’s what readers want to read and op-ed editors want to publish. Whenever possible, tie your issue overtly to something taking place in the news. If you’re a researcher studying cancer, for example, start off by discussing the celebrity who passed away yesterday. Or, look ahead to a holiday or anniversary a week from now that will provide a fresh news peg and enable editors to plan the story beforehand.
Second, limit the article to 700-800 words. Shorter is even better. Some academic authors contend they need more rooms to explore their argument. Alas, newspapers have narrow space to offer, and editors usually won’t take the time to cut a long article down to size.
Third, make a single point well. You cannot find a solution of the world’s problems in 800 words. Be pleased with making a single point obviously and convincingly. If you cannot make your message clear in a sentence or two, you’re attempting to cover too much.
Fourth, put your main point on top. You’re not writing for academic publications that generally wait until the final paragraphs to reveal their punchlines. Op-ed articles do the opposite. You have no more than 10 seconds to hook a busy reader, which means you shouldn’t “clear your throat” with a witticism or historical aside. Just get to the point and convince the reader that it’s worth his or her valuable time to continue.
Fifth, tell readers why they should be concerned. Regards yourself as an occupied person looking at your article. At the end of every few paragraphs, ask out loud: “Who cares? So what?” You must answer these questions. Will your ideas protect them from disease? Help cut readers’ taxes down? Make their children more cheerful? Explain why! Appeals to self-interest generally are more effective than abstract punditry.
Sixth, propose particular advices. An op-ed is not a news story that merely portrays a situation; it is your opinion about how to fix problems. Don’t be contended, as you might be in a classroom, with mere analysis. In an op-ed article you are required to propose recommendations. How precisely should your state care for its environment, or the government change its foreign policy or parents go for healthier foods for their children? You’ll need to do more than call for “more research!”
Seventh, showing is better than telling. You may remember the proposed house of representative (DPR)’s overpriced new building that became a symbol of profligate spending. You probably don’t recall the total DPR budget for that year. People recollect colorful details better than dry facts. When writing an op-ed article, hence, look for great examples that will bring your argument to life.
Eighth, personalize your notion. Your own experience is momentous. Academics tend to avoid first-person exposition in professional journals, which rarely begin with phrases like “You won’t believe what I found when I was working in my lab last month.” When it comes to op-eds, personalizing your own voice is necessary. Being a physician, you might depict the plight of one of your patients and then tell us how this made you feel personally. If you’ve worked with poor families, narrate one of them to help argue your point. Sharing details will reveal your humanity. In so doing, your words will ring truer and the reader will care more about what you are saying. If you are a student or someone else without a fancy degree or title, your personal voice becomes even more important.
Ninth, recognize the opposite views. People writing op-ed pieces at times make the mistake of piling on one reason after another why they’re right and their opponents are wrong, if not idiots. They would probably appear more credible, and almost certainly humbler and appealing, if they took a moment to acknowledge the ways in which their opponents are right.
Tenth, avoid tedious rebuttals. As you write an article in response to an earlier piece that made your blood boil, avoid the temptation to prepare a point-by-point rebuttal. It makes you look petty. It’s likely that readers didn’t see the earlier article and, if they did, they’ve probably forgotten it. So, just take a deep breath, mention the earlier article once and argue your own case. If you really need to rebut the article, forego an op-ed article and instead write a letter to the editor, which is more appropriate for this purpose.
As a writer, I emphasize that no short cut to writing well. Takes practice. You have to think and live like writers do. Read and read and read. Read for both form and content. Read books, newspapers, magazines. Expand your horizon by diversifying your interests. Yes, read novels too. Make notes all the time, carry a notebook. All writers do.