How to write an OpEd

Are you about to write an opinion editorial (OpEd) for your company, for a school project, or as a freelancer?

If so, follow these five fundamental rules to avoid producing an OpEd that rambles, ruins your authoritativeness, or just plain sucks to read.

1. No more than 1000 words

Seriously. In general, I shoot for a range of 700 to 1000 words. But the topic really drives the length. If you can clearly articulate and support your opinion in 500 words, don't force yourself to add more words.

If you wind up spilling your entire knowledge base onto the page, and you're well beyond 1000 words, you'll need to edit down to 1000 words or fewer.

Master tip: Don't write UP to a particular word count. Edit DOWN to a powerful, concise, and unambiguous body of text.

2. Use first-person voice

Consider how each of the following sentences make you feel:

Sentence 1. This author suggests writing in the third-person as you work to convey your opinions.

Sentence 2. I suggest writing your opinions as if you're actually telling someone your opinions.

Which sentence was easier and more natural to read? Did one of the sentences make you feel more connected to the author as a human being?

Master tip: Sentence 2...use the style of Sentence 2.

3. Never use qualifiers

The insight is in the name: opinion editorial. If you've written it, readers already know that it's your opinion. This may seem obvious, but many writers still add qualifiers to their opinions.

Qualifiers like "in my opinion," or "I think," or "I believe" undermine the authority of your voice. They make you sound defensive; uncertain of your own ideas.

And wouldn't that create some confusion on the part of your readers? Why should anyone give credence to the ideas of an author who timidly states that his ideas are merely and humbly what he believes, instead of stating those ideas matter-of-factly?

A better way: Take a stand. State your position as if it is fact. Then support your position through evidence and sound reasoning.

If you don't convey through your text confidence in your own intellectual output...then your OpEd is wasted text.

As John Eldredge wrote, "Let people feel the weight of who you are...and let them deal with it."

4. Be intentional

...with what you write, with how you write it, and with where it lives within your text.

Yes, you write an OpEd to communicate your opinion. But it's more than that.

An OpEd isn't simply a way for you to inform others of what you think. It's a vehicle, a mechanism, for you to shape a discussion; to influence the thoughts and beliefs of others.

It's a way for you to strategically deliver your message, in your voice, at a specified time, to a particular target audience.

5. Don't write to be understood. Write so that it's impossible to be misunderstood.

This is truly a master tactic.

Don't try to make me understand where your opinion is coming from. There is no end to that effort. If you take that approach, your text will ramble. It won't be concise or powerful, and will leave both you and me feeling as though something is missing.

A better method is to remove all possibility of misunderstanding from your text. This approach offers more actionable control, in that it has a definable end. If your opinion is 'A100' but a reader identifies your opinion as 'A120,' then your text creates misunderstanding.

This approach overlaps with 'design thinking' concepts:
Articulate your end goal, in no uncertain terms. Then work backwards from that goal to shape the journey your reader must take to reach only your end goal.