The Op-Ed

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					          The Op-Ed

     Theory and Practice
     September 10, 2007
This presentation was taken from a course presented by:
          Christopher Kojm
          Professor of the Practice of International Affairs
          Director, Master of International Policy & Practice Program
          Director, U.S. Foreign Policy Summer Institute
     Why Do Op-Eds Matter?

--     Nobody in the policy world
       reads books or journals
--     Everybody in the policy world
       reads the newspapers
     Why Do Op-Eds Matter?
--     24/7 newscycle
--     200 entertainment options per
--     intense competition in the info
       and entertainment business
--     Nobody will sit still to read
       more than 750 words
--     750 words make you a policy
      Why Do Op-Eds Matter?
• Your control the content. Not true in a
  Radio or TV setting, unless you are buying
  the time (very expensive)
• You have the ability to reach a wide variety
  of individuals
• You have the ability to reach them all at the
  same time
 Why do Op-Eds matter?
--   It’s how the Government
     communicates with itself
--   Opportunity to win support
     outside your own agency, find
--   Opportunity to build public
     Sparking Public Debate

--    Electronic media routinely take
      their cue from print journalism
--    Key arguments of an Op-Ed
      work very well in a Radio or
      TV format
What Makes a Good Op-Ed?
--   One central argument
--   At least 3 reasons in support
     of your argument
--   Identifying the counter-
     argument(s) and putting them to
--   Why the world is a better place
     if your argument prevails
What Makes a Good Op-Ed?
--   Taking on a new topic
--   Taking on an old topic with a
     fresh perspective
--   Identifying a missing
--   Taking on the conventional
--   Powerful personal story
   What Makes a Good Op-Ed?
• Making sure the reader wants to read to the
  – Clarity. You don’t ever want the reader to
    linger over a word or phrase because it is
    confusing or ambiguous.
  – Arguments and images that are memorable
  – Simplicity
  – Accessibility
      How to Write an Op-Ed

• The Lede
  – Your first paragraph must make your point
  – No guarantee that the reader will get beyond the
    first paragraph
  – The only exception to the first paragraph rule is
    if you have a compelling story for your first
    paragraph to hook the reader
         The Middle
--   Each paragraph must build in
     progression, logically following
     the previous paragraph.
--   Every paragraph must make a
     separate point
                 The Ending
• Recapitulate your argument
• Always end on a high note – why the world is a
  better place if your policy is adopted.
• Always end on a word with positive associations,
  as appropriate-- peace, justice, freedom, equality,
  opportunity, hope, success (etc.)
• Use, if you can, contrasts (“antithesis”) in your
  closing arguments: dark/light; war/peace;
  fear/hope; failure/success (etc.)
          Techniques to Use
• Short paragraphs – one point per paragraph
• Short sentences – Noun, Verb; Noun Verb
• Simple words: Anglo-Saxon words are
  better than Latinate words.
          Techniques to Use
• Storytelling is a plus. Parables work, and
  the reader will remember them.
• Short anecdotes with which the reader can
  immediately identify.
• Analogies that are easy to grasp.
          Techniques to Avoid
• Long Paragraphs. If its more than 3 sentences,
  review the paragraph. If it is more than five
  sentences, break into separate paragraphs or edit
  into a shorter paragraph.
• Long sentences. If you have a sentence with
  dependent clauses, rewrite the sentence and make
  it shorter and simpler.
• Long words. If its more than three syllables, think
  about a shorter word.
        Techniques to Avoid
• Avoid Acronyms. If it is not FBI, CIA or
  UN, spell it out or drop it.
• Avoid jargon. The worst possible sin in the
  world of Op-Eds. The reader doesn’t know
  what you are talking about.
• Avoid SAT words. Confuses the reader,
  and creates a distance between the author
  and reader.
           Techniques to Avoid
•   Personal attacks
•   Defensive statements
•   Complaining and whining
•   If you want to make a devastating attack on
    a policy (or person), recount a story, or use
    a quote. Your own voice should be used
    exclusively on behalf of the policy solution
    (“making the world a better place”).
   Techniques to Use Sparingly
• Quotes. At most, one quotation per article – if and
  only if it is particularly attention-getting and
  appropriate. You only want to use a quote if it
  uniquely underscores the point you want to make.
• Facts. A few strategically placed facts help your
  piece. Too many make it wonky and leaden.
• Numbers – a few are good. But too many numbers
  are numbing.
   Techniques to Use Sparingly
• Alliteration. In key sentences, can help to make
  your arguments memorable. Too much makes
  your piece comic.
• Inverted word order (“anastrophe”) Too much
  makes you sound like Yoda.
• Repetition in structure. Can help build rhythm in
  your presentation. Never repeat content, except
  recapitulation in the closing paragraph.
        Get a Second Opinion
• Ask your friends or roommates to read it.
• If they don’t understand what you’re talking
  about, the reader won’t either.
              Always Edit
• After you finish a draft, set aside for a few
• Come back and re-read and re-edit
• Even after you think you are done, every
  good Op-Ed can be made better by cutting 5
  to 10%.
• Op-Eds are seldom made better by adding
  material. (Substituting yes, adding no).

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