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Michael Long is a speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright.

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Improve Your Op-ed Writing
Tips to increase your odds of getting published. 

The Molecule of More explains in a revolutionary way why you do what you do. If you would like an autographed copy, let me know. It's $25 per copy, US shipping including, and I accept PayPal and ZellePay. Just send me an email with your address and I'll send your copy right along.

As always, available as well (unsigned, alas) at Amazon and wherever books are sold.

If you’re not intimidated by writing an op-ed, either a) you know exactly what you’re doing after all these years or b) you don’t have the sense God gave a hammer.

At about 750 words depending on the outlet, op-eds are short, and that is what makes them so challenging to write. There’s not room for every argument so writers have to decide what’s most effective, and discard the rest, This requires familiarity with the audience’s interests, knowledges, and sympathies as well as a laser-precise focus on the idea you wish to plant in their heads.

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Op-eds are about “getting to yes.” This means they are not primarily about ideology. This is the first barrier that trips up most writers. It’s easy to imagine that readers are persuaded by some commonality between their political philosophy and that associated with the case the author is making, but only a few readers think that way. To argue from ideology is, in most cases, reducible to asking readers to cheer for a team because, well, that’s the team they always cheer for. The typical reader is less interested in left or right, Democrat or Republican, than he is in the answer that best comports with his priorities and values. In fact, arguing from ideology turns off approximately half of the readers who have even the slightest hard feelings against one side or the other—all the more reason to avoid arguing policy in terms of politics.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy was among the most successful U.S. legislators not because he fought for his liberal ideas in the name of liberalism but because he argued their content, quality, and impact. To emphasize practicality and common appeal, he often sought co-sponsors of ideology as distant from his own as possible. Senator Kennedy understood what motivates people, and on most legislative matters he was more interested in getting something done, even incrementally, than in scoring brag-points for his team. On the other side of the political fence, President Ronald Reagan made the point thusly:  There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.

The typical reader is less interested in left or right than in a sensible answer.

Remember too that op-eds must be written as much for the op-ed page editor as for anyone else. She is the gatekeeper and if you can’t get past her, all your consideration of the reader won’t matter. These editors are looking for several things in particular and a smart op-ed writer will address those things early and clearly.

For instance, editors look for a connection to a topic already in the news. Raising something out of the blue is usually a sign that the writer is peddling a personal interest—an advertisement, really—instead of making a contribution to public debate. Smart op-ed writers lead with a news peg. Also, the editor needs to know quickly what the piece is about. A 750-word piece whose big idea doesn’t pop up until a hundred words in tells the editor that the piece is wordy, unfocused, or both—and likely not worth publishing. Editors also appreciate structure. Clear statements of the point and subpoints indicate that a writer is making a methodical effort at persuasion.

Finally, editors appreciate a case that leads readers to a conclusion. Declarations that one thing or another “clearly proves” whatever are sure signs of an amateur (and a jerk with little capacity for understanding how other people come to a decision).
There are lots of other considerations, including  the credentials of the signer, the timing, and the appropriateness of the forum for any given topic. But these basics on the writing will give you a leg up over those would-be op-ed writers who are starting from scratch, whether they have a good idea or an ax to grind.

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