A great way to get the word out about preventing drugged driving is through submitting an op-ed to your local newspaper. An op-ed article allows you to reach thousands of people, sway hearts, change minds and perhaps even reshape public policy.
Tips for Writing Op-Eds
- Track the news and jump at opportunities. Timing is essential. When an issue is dominating the news — whether it’s a war, a stock market panic or just the latest controversy on a reality TV show — that’s what readers want to read and op-ed editors want to publish. Whenever possible, link your issue explicitly to something happening in the news.
- Use the provided template. The Op Ed Template to write your article. You can add to it but keep in to 750 words or less.
- Make a single point — well. You cannot solve all of the world’s problems in 750 words. Be satisfied with making a single point clearly and persuasively. If you cannot explain your message in a sentence or two, you’re trying to cover too much.
- Put your main point on top. You’re not writing for Science, The Quarterly Journal of Economics or other academic publications that typically wait until the final paragraphs to reveal their punchlines. Op-ed articles do the opposite. You have no more than 10 seconds to hook a busy reader, which means you shouldn’t “clear your throat” with a witticism or historical aside. Just get to the point and convince the reader that it’s worth his or her valuable time to continue.
- Tell readers why they should care. Put yourself in the place of the busy person looking at your article. At the end of every few paragraphs, ask out loud: “So what? Who cares?” You need to answer these questions. Will your suggestions help reduce readers’ taxes? Protect them from disease? Make their children happier? Explain why. Appeals to self-interest usually are more effective than abstract punditry.
- Offer specific recommendations. An op-ed is not a news story that simply describes a situation; it is your opinion about how to improve matters. Don’t be satisfied, as you might be in a classroom, with mere analysis. In an op-ed article you need to offer recommendations. How exactly should your state protect its environment, or the White House change its foreign policy or parents choose healthier foods for their children? You’ll need to do more than call for “more research!” or suggest that opposing parties work out their differences.
- Use short sentences and paragraphs. Look at some op-ed articles and count the number of words per sentence. You’ll probably find the sentences to be quite short. You should use the same style, relying mainly on simple declarative sentences. Cut long paragraphs into two or more shorter ones.
- Avoid jargon. If a technical detail is not essential to your argument, don’t use it. When in doubt, leave it out. Simple language doesn’t mean simple thinking; it means you are being considerate of readers who lack your expertise and are sitting half-awake at their breakfast table or computer screen.
- Don’t worry about the headline. The newspaper will write its own headline. You can suggest one, but don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.
- Offer graphics. Until recently, newspaper op-ed pages rarely accepted graphics or photos to accompany op-ed article submissions. This tradition is now changing, especially as publications move online. If you have a terrific illustration, photo, video or other asset that might accompany your article, alert the editor when you send it.
- How to submit an article. Almost all newspapers and commentary sites now post guidelines about how they prefer to receive op-ed submissions. In general, they provide an e-mail address where you can submit the article electronically, but check first. Always be sure to include your contact information, and say whether you have a photo of yourself available.
Thank you to Duke University for the advocacy tips.