Do Your Homework When Writing an Opinion Piece

Here are some tips you can use to write a better op-ed (opinion) article:

Op-ed pieces are opinion articles that can appear in traditional print publications, such as newspapers and magazines, or in online formats such as blogs.

The most effective op-ed pieces build credibility by using factual information to support the writer’s arguments. Lack of credibility is the quickest way to eliminate any influence the writer hopes to exert on their audience.

It is critical that the subject matter of your piece is timely, or most readers will ignore your work and move on to something more interesting. For example, it wouldn’t do much good to endorse a candidate once the election is over.

Here are a few tips to make your op-ed writing more effective:

Facts tell; Stories sell
It’s an age-old adage of the sales business, but it applies to op-ed writing as well. Use your own personal experience if you don’t have a better one to leverage in support of your position.

Facts remain a critical part of the op-ed piece in terms of boosting the credibility of the writer. How much credibility do you think the pundits who chose to ignore pre-election polls lost when the 2012 Presidential election turned out the way it did? By the same token, NY Times blogger Nate Silver became a media superstar for using historical trends and poll statistics to correctly predict the outcomes of virtually every major race across the U.S.

Craft an eye-catching headline
Newspapers and magazines may not always use the headline you suggest – especially if it doesn’t fit in the space available in the page design – but it never hurts to help them with a suggestion. It’s also your first step in getting your op-ed piece past the first filter. If your headline makes the editor who opens your e-mail yawn, chances are they won’t even bother reading your article.

Take a look at the publication’s typical op-ed page design, and give the editor something to work with that may fit. Anything you can do to make the editor’s job easier, the better the chances they’ll cast a favorable eye on your submissions.

Check your work – That’s an order!
Please (please!) make the effort to run your word processing software’s spelling and grammar program before submitting your work. Nothing sends a submission into the editor’s trash bin faster than an article filled with misspellings and grammar issues. It just screams sloppiness and unprofessionalism, while dashing your credibility with the most important person you need to have on your side. Editors don’t want to waste their time correcting mistakes you should have taken care of before ever hitting the ‘send’ button.

If possible, have a trusted friend give your piece a look, too. It’s amazing how our eyes will fail to notice even the most obvious mistakes when it’s our own work. Plus, they may give you some valuable feedback you can use to improve your article before submitting it.

Cut to the chase
Get to the point of your op-ed piece quickly. Readers have shorter attention spans today than ever, so you risk losing them if you put them to work reading several paragraphs of background before ever getting to the point.

Editors typically cut from the bottom of articles first if they need to trim them to a specific length. With that in mind, make sure you hit your most important points early in your piece and save the less important ones for the end.

There’s a famous saying in the newspaper business that goes, “I would have written a shorter article, but I didn’t have time.” It’s easy to blather on about your topic; it’s more challenging to make your points and get out.

No need to re-invent the wheel
There’s a reason the most effective op-ed pieces follow the tried-and-true format of introduction, hit a few key points, conclusion and perhaps a call to action. It’s because it works.

Trying to be too cute with the structure of your piece or filling it with clichés and jargon are sure tickets to the trash bin or loss of credibility.

Write in active voice
There is nothing grammatically incorrect with passive voice; it just is not as pleasing to the ear as active voice. The direct noun-verb connection that exists with active voice construction creates a much smoother read than passive voice.

Get this free report for a more detailed discussion of active voice vs. passive voice.

Research the publication’s requirements
Most newspapers, magazines and blog outlets post guidelines for accepting submitted work. Take the time to look them up and follow these guidelines to the letter. If they tell you they won’t open an e-mail attachment, and that they would rather you copy-paste your article into the body of your e-mail, then do that.

Pay attention to word limits. Nothing is more irritating to an editor than receiving a 1,000-word op-ed piece when the organization’s website clearly limits lengths to 500 words. Again, chances are it will go directly to the trash bin.

A final word
Try not to be too disappointed if your op-ed piece doesn’t find its way into your targeted publication or website. These places received boatloads of submissions, and they just can’t run them all.

Make sure to include your contact information in case the editor needs to contact you, and research their format for closing. Many publications include detail about the author at the end of the piece, and that is something you should include without them having to ask you for it.

Good luck, and enjoy the journey!
Posted by Mike Dauplaise on December 14, 2012 at 5:15 PM under
Freelance writing

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2 Responses to Do Your Homework When Writing an Opinion Piece

  1. Hi there! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the good info you will have right here on this
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  2. Elmi says:

    Writer by trade too…. I think the best pieces i’ve wettirn are on issues I feel passionately about like organ donation and pieces I did where I spent the day with people like drug addicts and the homeless that changed people’s perception. I also ran a campaign when I was a health reporter that paid for a children’s high dependency unit at the local hospital… Lots of emotional stuff to tug on people’s heartstrings…

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