As someone who specializes in writing, I am called upon to write many things for clients: fact sheets, white papers, news releases, talking points, and so on. But among the many things I might be asked to write, my favorite is an op-ed.
An op-ed, of course, expresses a point of view, an opinion, an argument. It also informs—it explains sometimes-complex topics to people who know nothing about the subject at hand. The best op-eds do so in about 600 words. If you can’t make a coherent and sensible argument in that number of words, then you’re not focused enough. (Editor’s note: The term “op-ed” comes from its traditional placement in a newspaper—opposite the Editorial page.)
An effective op-ed always starts at what Aristotle termed the point of consubstantiality—a point where both sides agree (spoken arguments in public debate, the true meaning of “rhetoric
,” were the op-eds of Aristotle’s day).
For example, any two people would probably agree that there is too much congestion on the roads in Atlanta. But one person thinks public transportation should be the solution, while the other believes added road capacity makes more sense. A good op-ed writer should be able to make either argument, and in a way that makes complete sense—so much sense that you may even change your mind. Changing opinions, after all, is the purpose of an op-ed.
If a shift in opinion isn’t accomplished, then talented op-ed writers should at least educate readers about a different point of view and the facts that support it. Some who are particularly good at doing so include George Will
and E.J. Dionne
at The Washington Post
, Kimberly Strassel
at The Wall Street Journal
, and Joe Klein
. I also like Charles Krauthammer
and Kathleen Parker
These writers—some liberal, others conservative—consistently craft well-written, coherent arguments that are as enlightening as they are convincing. They make me think and consider different points of view, to be better informed, regardless of whether I ultimately agree with them. That’s the art of the op-ed.
Of course, as much as I like writing op-eds, not every client needs one, and none that I write are published under my own name. Such is the nature of public relations writing
. But when a client needs to make its case in a manner that is high profile, thoughtful, and attracts an educated audience (and is more than 140 characters), the op-ed page is often the place we seek to make it. If I’ve done my job, 600 words later you’ll be a believer, too.
Mike Mullet is supervisor of account services at Cookerly PR. He provides writing support to agency clients, public relations campaigns, and new business development. A version of this story first appeared on the Cookerly blog.