One of our clients recently launched a public-relations campaign with a series of op-ed essays in their city’s leading newspaper. Twelve authors agreed to write on an issue of concern to all the organizations they represented. To keep all the authors on the same page, we offered these seven tips for writing op-eds.
1. Write with purpose. Op-ed newspaper essays are traditionally printed opposite the editorial page. Unlike letters to the editor, which simply express an opinion, op-eds are carefully designed to persuade. Op-eds are crafted to change the reader’s perspective, attitude or behavior. So begin with the end in mind.
In this project for the Alliance for Human Services, we are persuading readers that human-service organizations deserve charitable support and a place at the table when community decisions are made. As an expert, how can you help prove that point?
2. Know your audience. Understand why they care (or don’t yet care) about your issue. Consider what motivates them and what might recruit them to your cause. Timing matters: what occupies their thoughts right now, and how does your issue relate? How does your issue engage their core values and beliefs?
3. Get to the point. Op-eds are brief. Don’t let your argument wander. Grab the reader’s attention in the first two sentences, then compel them to read further. Write your best persuasive essay of 1,000 words, then pare it down to 750 words, and finally submit only the most essential 500 words.
4. Support your position. Bolster your argument with established facts. By the second paragraph, introduce your reader to something they did not already know.. Include persuasive data in your essay that can be visualized in the charts, tables, or infographics that often accompany op-eds.
5. Make it stick. Include memorable (and repeatable) symbols, metaphors, and word pictures. Write colorfully and creatively. Put a human face on your facts.
6. Write in your own voice. Own your expertise. Let your passion for the issue come through. Be human. Avoid industry jargon.
7. Submit via email. In today’s digital age, submit your op-ed to the newspaper editor in a plain-text email. In your opening note to the editor, identify yourself and your expertise, and thank the editor for considering your op-ed. Then, insert your essay text. Don’t attach a separate document; put your essay directly in the body of the email. Suggest a headline, but realize this might be changed by editors.