How To Write An Op-Ed That Gets Read
Op-Eds offer legal professionals an avenue to drive important conversations that drive change. Understanding how to write a successful op-ed that conveys your points clearly to readers is crucial. As The New York Times points out, an op-ed “requires a clear thesis, backed by rigorously marshaled evidence, in the service of a persuasive argument.” So how do you write a successful op-ed?
Above The Law recently released an article by LawProfBlawg —an anonymous professor at a top 100 law school—that offers advice on how to write an op-ed that gets results (along with how to respond backlash).
The first thing to keep in mind when writing an op-ed, according to LawProfBlawg, is to remember that your reader isn’t a mind reader.
“You have about 700 words to convey your main idea clearly and succinctly,” LawProfBlawg says. “If you fail to articulate your idea well, the reader will be left searching for clues implicit in the op-ed as to what you actually mean.”
The key is to be clear and concise in your writing. Logic, facts, and consistency are the most important things to remember when writing. If you aren’t clear and concise, your reader may misread your piece and think you’re saying something that you’re not. “In that case, it is you who has misread what you wrote,” LawProfBlawg writes. “If you get lots of feedback suggesting you either implied or expressly stated something in the op-ed, then you might be humble enough to recognize that either you wrote something so poorly that a reasonable person could get that inference, or worse, perhaps you really did mean it.”
If you write an op-ed, LawProfBlawg says, you have to stand by what you said, but don’t be defensive. “An op-ed is not an opportunity to lecture the public and run,” LawProfBlawg says. “If you’re lucky, there will be intellectual debate and your readers and you will be better off for it. If you’re unfortunate, you’ll get death threats.”
If your op-ed is successful, it will create discussion. However, it might not always be discussion that agrees with you. “If you choose to reply to comments you receive about your op-ed, be kind and always take the high road,” LawProfBlawg advises. Your focus should be on the ideas that you articulated in your piece, not on insulting or belittling those who don’t agree.
If you’re a tenured professor, there are consequences you should consider when writing and publishing an op-ed. “Tenure is not a blanket license to insult people in an op-ed,” LawProfBlawg writes. “If you’ve written something about any controversial topic, there will be backlash.”
It’s not responding to backlash that will get you in trouble, but rather, how you respond that may put you in sticky situations. “DO NOT call your readers stupid, disingenuous, opposed to your political views, or otherwise demonstrate that you are in reality an academic bully,” LawProfBlawg says. “That has nothing to do with what you wrote, and tells the commentator more about your insecurity instead.”
Writing an op-ed takes courage. But if you take the time to write a clear and concise piece that conveys your ideas efficiently, your piece can generate meaningful conversation. Of course, that conversation may not always merit a positive response.
Sources: Above The Law, LawProfBlawg, The New York Times