Media/writing successful opeds the fundamentals

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Writing Successful Op-eds:  The Fundamentals

 by The Progressive Media Project

STRUCTURE

 

1.     Write a strong lead (Opening statement)

 

a)    Find the “news peg.”  What makes your subject relevant, topical, and of interest or importance for the audience at the time it is being read?  Anniversaries, current events, historical commemoration, emerging issues, are all possible sources for your news peg.  If you are looking to connect your topic to a date or anniversary in history, anniversaries ending in “0” (10th, 20th, etc.) or “5” (25th, 35th, etc.) often work out well.

 

b)    Make sure the first two sentences are short and to the point: you want to convey subject + attitude/point of view.   The opening sentence should never be more than 15-20 words long.

 

c)     Most editors will only read through the first couple of sentences to make their determination on publication.  The simplicity, strength and directness of your lede are very important.

 

2.     Defend your position with two or three arguments.  Be sure they are clear and separate points.  Use signposts (enumeration or words like “next,” “also,” etc.) to help your reader with your reasoning structure and logic.

 

3.     Rebut the obvious counterarguments, especially if there are well-known or familiar objections to your position.

 

4.     Don’t try to do too much. Don’t introduce new subject matter in the second to last paragraph.  If you feel compelled to include excessive detail or lengthy explanations, you might want to reconsider your lede and narrow it down further.  Or, perhaps you really have material for more than one op-ed.

 

5.     End on a strong note.  Appeal to the readers’ highest values.

 

6.     Be conscious of editorial and publication deadlines.  Find out when your draft is needed and get it in on time.  Be especially conscious of deadlines when you are writing about something that is tied closely to a specific date (The 25th anniversary of ….).

 

 

WRITING TIPS

 

1.     Overcoming writer’s block:

 

a)    Check your ego at the door. 

 

b)    Don’t wait for the muse:  it might not arrive on time or ever.  Start writing, and keep writing.  Once you have something on paper or on your computer screen, you can start working with it and you will find direction and even inspiration. 

 

c)     Writer’s block is thinker’s block. Outlines will help you.  Don’t burden yourself with formal outlines with enumeration, indentation, etc..   Allow yourself to think broadly, draw connections, find associations, and put down ideas, fragments of ideas, impressions and thoughts, facts, any and all possibilities.  You might be surprised at where your outline takes you.

 

2.     Use short sentences and small words.  In op-eds, a paragraph can be one sentence.

 

3.     Use active, not passive tense.

 

4.     Avoid categoricals: first, last, always, never, best, worst, most, etc.  These tend to get overused, are often not entirely true, and can damage the credibility of your argument or position if someone can point out that your example is in fact not the first, last, etc..

 

5.     Feel free to start sentences with “and” and “but,” no matter what your English teachers told you.

 

6.     Shun academic and other “in-group” jargon. For example: “problematic,” hegemonic,” “zeitgeist,” “indeed.”  Jargon can be puzzling to folks who don’t understand it, confusing if people misunderstand it, and it can sound pompous.

 

7.     Trim adjectives and adverbs.  For example: “Dashed quickly” (Is there any other way to dash?)

 

8.     Don’t get overheated – “preposterous,” “outrageous,” “unconscionable,” “fascistic.”

 

9.      Read it aloud after you are done.  The ear often picks up or critiques differently what the eye reads.