Thursday, May 3, 2007

Writing OpEds -- Part Two

My apologies. I got distracted with that last post. But it was too good (and timely) to ignore.

Let me get back to OpEds (and there’s a free gift at the end).

First, a quick review from part one:
1. OpEds should hammer home one idea
2. They should be confident and opinionated
3. They should point the reader to think or do one thing
4. They should be relevant (newsworthy) to readers

On we go to suggestions 5-8, and the exercise you should try before writing your next OpEd.

5. Be clear and simple. Part of this – but only part - is clarity of the idea. But clarity of language is equally important. Do not show off your Ivy League education with five-syllable words. I often tell clients that the best way to appear brilliant is to break down complicated issues to concepts the audience can easily understand. If you make them feel smart, they'll think you're smart. If you make them feel stupid, they'll think you're pretentious and they’ll stop reading.

6. They sound good when read aloud. Good OpEds have the cadence of a speech, not an essay. They have short sentences and long ones. They reach out and connect with readers not just with the words that are written, but with the way they are presented. If your piece sounds smart but boring, it probably is.

7. Be brief. Good OpEds are short, and the better they are, the shorter they seem. Written poorly, the standard-length 750 word OpEd can drag on and on. Written well, the words whiz by, leaving the reader with one idea and either agreement or disagreement. If a casual bystander seems bored by your OpEd, chances are that you've missed the mark. If a co-worker is bored by it, you've written a real snoozer.

8. Most importantly, OpEds need to be organized counter to the way most people tend to lay out their arguments. Most of us were taught in school to lay out our position like a lawyer in a courtroom. Point A leads to Point B, which leads to Point C. Therefore….conclusion. The court of public opinion works differently, and OpEds are a tool of public opinion. Lead with your conclusion. Convince the reader to care. Then convince him to agree. Leave out anything that is not critical, even if it is interesting.

There’s a simple exercise you can try the next time you have an OpEd to write. Before you begin drafting your piece, you should be able to clearly state:
• Your thesis, in one sentence.
• The relevance (timeliness, importance, etc.) of your thesis.
• Three contextual "proof points" that help illustrate why your thesis is right.

If you struggle with that exercise, spend your time and effort here. Once you get those down and you follow these eight tips, the OpEd will flow from your fingertips. If you simply begin typing, you could end up with 800 words that will be very hard to edit and even harder for readers to absorb.

And now the free gift. I put these tips/guidelines into a mock-OpEd that you can download, print and refer to the next time you have to start writing. Enjoy. I hope it helps.


Sam said...

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