8 tips for writing an op-ed

July 14, 2020

Amid perhaps the most tumultuous year in modern American society, organizations of all types have new opportunity as trusted messengers to provide a point of view that can help shape the future of not only their industry, but our communities and our collective worldview.

Opinion editorials are one of the vehicles through which organizations can provide thought leadership to a wide audience. But securing an “op-ed” with editorial boards at publications requires a defined point of view, real insight from data and a unique perspective that can help readers make better, more-informed decisions.

As we continue to help place op-eds in publications across Washington and beyond, we wanted to share a few tips in considering your content and how to generate interest with editorial boards.

1) Get clear on your opinion.

They are called opinion editorials for a reason. They need to express a strong point of view and take a stance on an issue. How do you want people to think differently after they read your op ed? Can you imagine another party disagreeing with you? (If you can’t, it’s probably not a strong enough opinion.) Be bold and brave and take a defined stance.

2) Avoid talking about yourself.

An opinion editorial is not a self-promotion piece. Though you may want to reference yourself and your expertise, as well as your organization and what you’re already doing in this space, those pieces of information should be in support of your central argument. They should not be the point of your op-ed.

3) Research your local newspaper.

You also want to familiarize yourself with the kinds of opinion editorials your local newspaper publishes. How long is the typical word count? What kinds of topics does it seem to favor? If the paper has published something similar recently, you might want to wait a few weeks before you submit.

4) Hook your reader’s attention.

The first sentence of your op-ed (or I’d argue, any piece of writing) is crucial. What can you share that will cause the reader to stop and take notice? Is there a startling statistic? First-hand experience? A local event that epitomizes the larger impact in your community or industry?

5) Earn your reader’s trust.

You need to be able to provide context and back up your argument. This is when you can reference your expertise or the work of your organization. But you should also look for other supporting evidence: data, research, first-hand experience. You need to give enough supporting information that even people who disagree with you can see the validity of your argument.

6) Write with passion.

Help this issue come alive for your readers — show them how it came about, what is contributing to it, how the events of 2020 have made it more obvious and/or dire. Don’t shy away from tugging on their heart strings. Provide enough detail that they understand what you’re observing and experiencing. Help them see how you arrived at your point of view.

7) Anticipate the opposition.

It’s usually a good idea to acknowledge the opposite point of view and anticipate any arguments against your position. You want to acknowledge flaws in your opinion or where you know others see it differently. Acknowledge their valid points and revisit why you still hold the opinion you do. This will help build credibility, proving you considered both sides of the issue before forming your conclusion.

8) End on a strong note.

Use your conclusion to restate your opinion. Leave your reader with a compelling thought. Hooking your reader is important, but leaving them with a lasting impression—a quote or statistic they’ll mull over — is paramount for your message to stick. It should punch them in the gut or make them feel hopeful imagining a new kind of future. Give you reader something to think about for the rest of day.

If you have an opinion you feel is ready for an opinion editorial and you’d like help thinking through the content and pitch strategy, feel free to drop me a note. I’d be happy to talk with you more about it!

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