How to Write an Attention-Grabbing Op-Ed in Five Steps

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 "op-ed" gets its name from the fact that it usually appears on the page opposite from the publication's editorial page. Quite simply, an op-ed is a highly focused opinion piece that aims to stir the reader's emotions while presenting facts that support the author's 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, here's the PR Rainmaker's 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. Don't try to fake it. You'll 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. There's 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 it.

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, "If I read this paragraph for the first time right now, could I resist the urge to continue reading this article?"

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. Don't go off on tangents. You don't have space for that. Stay very, very, very focused.

Introduce quotes from third parties. These would include documents, studies, surveys, public statements, white papers, books, articles and the like.

And don't forget emotion. Facts provide the reasons to agree with the statement, but emotion provides the impetus to take action. No emotion, no action. That's 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.

Let's talk a moment about format:

  1. Use a common typeface, like Arial or Times, in 10 to 12 point type. Double space.
  2. Write in short sentences.
  3. Speak in a bold active voice that leans upon nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.
  4. Avoid jargon.
  5. Put your name, address and phone number at the top of the page.
  6. Suggest a headline based upon your lead paragraph.
  7. Include a paragraph at the end that explains your qualifications.
  8. Place a "###" at the bottom of the last page to indicate the end.
  9. Enclose a brief cover letter that summarizes the op-ed and your expertise.

To study examples of well-written op-eds, visit

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About the Author

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 e-book "PR Rainmaker," please visit right now.

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