Margot 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 free tips and strategies.
There is no formula for writing an op ed. You could write stream of consciousness and it could be terrific. But for folks who like structure, two basic formats make op ed writing quicker and easier.
You may recognize the first format, the five paragraph essay, from high school:
- Introduction ending with your main point. In an op ed, the introduction is called the lead.
- Three supporting paragraphs backed up by evidence (e.g., statistics, personal stories, studies by experts, lessons of history, comparisons with other countries).
- Conclusion. In an op ed, the conclusion shouldn’t just be a summary of your arguments; it should urge a proposed solution or make a call to action. Now that you’ve educated your readers about an issue, tell them what should happen next and how they can make it happen.
Find an example of how the “high school essay” format works here.
The second basic structure (1) explains the problem and (2) lays out the solution. X is bad, here’s how to fix it. One caveat: don’t fall into the trap of simply “admiring the problem” and failing to offer solutions or limiting your solutions to a quick paragraph near the end. A good rule of thumb is 50/50 or about 400 words describing the problem and about 300 words proposing the solution.
When you have more time to write (and get approvals), you might depart from these basic structures and try something creative like a satirical press release or news story, an imagined commencement address or inaugural speech, a quiz, or a form that can’t be categorized like a series of provocative questions.
Have you ever tried writing a creative, outside-the-box op ed? Share your experiences below or ask a different question about writing publishable op eds.
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