Op Eds: Writing Leads that Grab Readers by the Lapels

Guest bloggerMargot Friedman, principal of Dupont Circle Communications, conducts trainings on writing and placing opinion editorials. Please like Op Ed Talk with Margot on Facebook to share op-ed tips and strategies.

Remember those posters in your high school hallway that said, “SEX! Now that I have your attention, vote for so and so for class president?” The signs were sophomoric, but they were onto something.
Before I can persuade you, I have to get your attention. That’s why the lead or opening paragraph of your next opinion editorial is so important.

You probably won’t have the chance to start a conversation on the op ed pages. Instead, think of yourself as joining a conversation. Tie your lead to an event that is already in the news. Or better yet, anticipate news that’s about to break. Timeliness is what makes your op ed publishable.

If you can’t tie your lead to an event in the news, create an opportunity by leading with:

  • New research studies or statistics (provided the statistics are startling);
  • Holidays or anniversaries of historic events;
  • References to popular culture, including movies, TV shows, and best-selling books;
  • Unique personal experiences (yours or someone else’s); and
  • Challenging the conventional wisdom is wrong. Everyone thinks X, but the reality is Y.

Take a look at the examples in the links above. Which one(s) make you want to keep reading beyond the first paragraph? That’s the test of whether a lead works.

The best time to plan your next op ed is now, not when a news story breaks unexpectedly. What events do you have on the calendar — holidays, anniversaries, movie premieres, legislative actions, report releases — that might create an opportunity for placing an op ed this year? I invite you to use the comments box below to try out an idea or ask a different question about writing publishable op eds.

P.S. Messages that connect are a priority for all organizations and the prerequisite for motivating your base to act. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the Nonprofit Tagline Report and Database for must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 5,000 searchable nonprofit tagline examples!

Guest Blogger on February 16, 2012 in Media Relations and Press | 1 comment
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  • Valerie Holford

    Very good points, Margot. It’s tough to break through without a breaking news peg, so it’s helpful to think through other approaches. When you can craft an op-ed that has more than one components of the list from your bullets, even better. I recently had an op-ed that included all of them except the holiday/anniversary angle.

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