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How to Write an Attention-Grabbing Op-Ed in
By Rusty Cawley
There are few better ways to attract new clients and
customers than by becoming known as an expert in your
field. And the fastest way to establish your expertise
is by writing op-eds for newspapers, magazines, trades
and the Web.
An ďop-edĒ gets its name from the fact that it usually
appears on the page opposite from the publicationís
editorial page. Quite simply, an op-ed is a highly
focused opinion piece that aims to stir the readerís
emotions while presenting facts that support the
authorís point of view.
Be forewarned: Op-eds are not for the timid. To write
an effective op-ed, you must be willing to seize an
issue and to take a strong stand. This is what
separates experts from generalists.
If you are unwilling to give a strong opinion, and thus
risk creating opponents to your ideas, then the op-ed
is not for you.
Keep this in mind: All great experts have opponents. It
is by waging war on the battlefield of ideas that
experts become well known and, in some cases, revered.
With all that said, hereís the PR Rainmakerís five-step
process for producing an attention-grabbing op-ed.
Step 1: Seize an issue.
Look for an issue that straddles the line between the
public good and your self-interest. You must either be
or become an expert on this issue. Donít try to fake
it. Youíll get caught and lose credibility with the
media and the public.
Check and double-check your facts. Make certain you
have the knowledge, the background and the supporting
data to qualify as an expert on this issue.
Seek an issue with a long shelf life. Thereís little
point to become a well-known expert on a problem that
will be solved next year.
Step 2: Identify a significant problem.
Within the context of your issue, search for a problem
that clearly threatens the general public or at least
some large segment of that public.
Focus, focus, focus. Clearly identify the problem, the
audience it affects and how you might go about solving
Step 3: Make a bold statement.
Open your op-ed by making a bold statement that forces
the reader to read on. This is no time to ease into
your article. Punch the reader in the face, then
explain why you did it.
The opening statement is everything. It will dictate
the headline. It will determine the focus of your
article. It will dictate the evidence you offer to
support your statement.
Spend a lot of time honing your first paragraph. Ask
yourself, ďIf I read this paragraph for the first time
right now, could I resist the urge to continue reading
Step 4: Defend your statement.
Your op-ed will total between 500 and 700 words. Your
opening statement will take up about 25 words. Your
conclusion will take up another 100 or so. The rest
will be devoted to defending your opening statement.
Use facts and statistics, but only those that apply
directly to your statement. Donít go off on tangents.
You donít have space for that. Stay very, very, very
Introduce quotes from third parties. These would
include documents, studies, surveys, public statements,
white papers, books, articles and the like.
And donít forget emotion. Facts provide the reasons to
agree with the statement, but emotion provides the
impetus to take action. No emotion, no action. Thatís
just how the human mind works.
Step 5: Propose a solution
Wrap up your story by proposing at least one clear,
bold solution to the problem you have identified. The
proposal is what will brand you as an expert. Sidestep
proposing a solution and you will lose your audience.
Letís talk a moment about format:
A. Use a common typeface, like Arial or Times, in 10 to
12 point type. Double space.
B. Write in short sentences.
C. Speak in a bold active voice that leans upon nouns
and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.
D. Avoid jargon.
E. Put your name, address and phone number at the top
of the page.
F. Suggest a headline based upon your lead paragraph.
G. Include a paragraph at the end that explains your
H. Place a ď###Ē at the bottom of the last page to
indicate the end.
I. Enclose a brief cover letter that summarizes the
op-ed and your expertise.
To study examples of well-written op-eds, visit
Rusty Cawley is a 20-year veteran journalist who now
coaches executives, entrepreneurs and professionals on
using the news media to attract customers and to
advance ideas. For your free copy of the hot new ebook
ďPR Rainmaker,Ē please visit www.prrainmaker.com right