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.
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.