Writing for the Brown University Op-Ed Service

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Here are a few ideas contributed by successful op-ed writers:

An op-ed piece is like a legal brief. Forget objectivity; put forward your opinion in a persuasive, argumentative manner.

Know your thesis
It doesn’t have to be complicated, but if you can’t sum up your argument in one sentence, think about it more before you sit down to write.

Be informal
Write as you would explain your argument to a friend. An essay can – and should – be like everyday speech.

Keep it short and simple
State your opinion clearly and quickly, back it up with facts and examples, and be done with it. Anything longer than 700 words can probably be said more succinctly. Many editors who are Op-Ed Service clients lack space for anything more than 700 words. Your opinion piece may be well-argued, but if it’s too long, editors won’t even consider it. The Op-Ed Service editor can help you revise, rewrite or trim your manuscript.

Think about structure
Aside from length, there are no hard-and-fast rules. While certain topics can be handled casually, even fancifully, others benefit from a well-ordered design. Here is a basic format often used for an opinion essay:

Lead paragraph
Your first sentence should grab people, otherwise they won’t read on. Start with a concrete image or example that sums up what you are saying, then get to your thesis and state it. (“Bob Brokaw didn’t know when he started smoking as a teen-ager that he’d be dying at the age of 50 of lung cancer.”)

Concessions and support
Now that you’ve made your point, back it up. Before you give evidence, you might want to provide background (“Cigarettes are long paper tubes...”) and/or concede certain points (“Granted, cigarettes made Humphrey Bogart appear suave and sophisticated...”) Then, in sucessive paragraphs, state the remaining tenets of your argument.

In the concluding paragraph, take things one step farther. (“It’s high time Congress stubbed out subsidies for tobacco growers and outlawed all forms of tobacco advertising.”) Make your last sentence, like your first, a “kicker.” You can come back to your lead example (“If it had only happened sooner, Bob might not be in an iron lung today”) or not, but don’t just fade away. Finish with a bang, not a whimper. Make it memorable.

Use the Op-Ed Service
To submit an op-ed or to discuss an idea you’re working on, contact the Op-Ed Service editor.

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