Write a Snappy OpEd
To Change Minds, and Maybe Even Behaviours
OpEds offer an important means to share your message – be it new research, a viewpoint or an idea on a topic that’s recently been in the news – with a wide, general readership. OpEds (which stands for ‘opposite the editorial pages’) are often one of the most widely read and redistributed sections of any respected broadsheet, and routinely influence key decision makers, affect policy and shape public perceptions.
OpEds, sometimes also called ‘commentaries,’ are generally provocative, sharp and precise.
Following the basic rules of commentary writing is paramount for getting your submission published in the leading media outlets. It will also help sharpen your argument and develop the narrative that will leave a lasting impression with readers.
The following key perimeters will help keep your submission stylistically within the requirements of most major Canadian papers:
The commentary must be no more than 600-700 and must be timely (on something that’s recently been in the news, or should be);
It must focus on only a single or a few major points or arguments – keep it simple and compelling;
It must express a point-of-view or opinion on a specific topic on which you have expertise. This viewpoint should be expressed in the first couple of paragraphs up front (proofs for this opinion can follow);
Ideally, it will draw on more than just evidence, but use personal experience or a personal story as an example, or use a helpful metaphor to make your argument compelling as well as convincing (we want the readership to connect with the article). Research on its own rarely changes minds;
Stay away from jargon and too many statistical numbers – particularly up-front; it should read like a well-spoken, compelling speech with an informed conversational tone;
Citations are absolutely prohibited – both in the body of the text or afterward. If you have to credit someone with an idea, it has to be written within the sentence itself and be part of the story you are telling;
Leave the reader at the end with a solution, or steps toward a solution or next steps (other than ‘more research’), highlight who the players are (individuals? levels of government?) and what specifically needs to be done next.
Keep in mind that editors give preference to commentaries that follow these rules precisely, and that provide their readers with evidence, examples and possible solutions as part of a provocatively stated opinion.