Check out our updated guide to writing for Atlantic Community, then read some of the advice below.
As former university students, we appreciate that after three to five years spent analyzing problems and concluding that they are indeed very complex, writing an op-ed with a strong thesis, innovative ideas, and a solution-oriented approach to an important transatlantic issue could seem like a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.
Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat from the United States Institute of Peace - who was a jury member for our recent op-ed competition - made the following 10 suggestions, which our editorial team have adapted and elaborated.
1. An op-ed is a short piece - you want to make only one point in an op-ed.
Articles for our Your Opinion section should be 500-700 words short. Because you can’t solve the world’s problems in 700 words, focus on one idea or issue and have one clear objective. You are trying to cover too much if you can’t explain your message in one or two sentences.
2. Spend some time thinking about the title of your article - it is the first introduction to the argument.
Readers have short attention spans. Draw them in with a strong headline that emphasizes your central message. A catchy title will help sell your piece and allow readers to grasp your idea quickly.
3. Put your main argument up-front - do not bury your main argument at the end of the piece.
You need to grab the reader’s attention in the first line. Express your opinion in your opening paragraph. Always come down hard on one side of the argument. Never equivocate. Don’t waste words giving too much background information. Don’t “clear your throat” with witty or historical asides. Get to the point and convince the reader that reading your article is worth the effort. They don’t have much time.
4. Tell the reader why they should care about the issue.
Imagine you are a busy person reading your article. At the end of each paragraph ask yourself, “So what? Who cares?” Your article should answer these questions. Personal experience can provide a compelling story and draw the reader in. Appealing to the reader’s self-interest is more effective than abstract commentary.
5. Set up a target - that is, frame the issue/argument.
After you have made your argument, use one sentence to identify the strongest counter argument and refute it with facts. For example, "Some might argue that bombing Tehran is the only option, however..."
6. Provide the reader with clear recommendations.
This is the most important point. You need to offer solutions or a better approach. Unlike a university tutor, we are not satisfied with mere analysis or criticism. Give us your opinion. How exactly should the EU address the sovereign debt crisis or how should Obama change his policy towards Iran? Don’t just call for more research or say we need more dialogue. Make constructive policy recommendations that are actionable by decision makers in the United States, Europe and relevant international organizations.
7. Use short clear sentences with short paragraphs - keep the language simple. In an op-ed "plain vanilla" is better than a "tall skinny caramel macchiato with extra foam"!
Anyone should be able to understand your argument. Use short sentences. Avoid technical jargon, acronyms and obscure references. Cut long paragraphs into two or more shorter ones. Only use technical details when they are essential to your argument. Using simple language doesn’t mean simple ideas. It means successfully conveying your solutions to people who lack your expertise.
8. Do not use the passive voice.
The active (“I believe that”) voice is more concise and easy to read than the passive voice (“it could be argued that”). Use active verbs and try to avoid adjectives and adverbs. Your arguments will have an identity making your article more convincing.
9. Provide clear and real life examples.
When you suggest a solution, give an example of it working elsewhere. Look for great examples that breathe life into your arguments. Avoid abstraction. Always use specific references and easy-to-understand data.
10. Think about your ending. Make it a winner.
Your final paragraph should summarize your argument with a catchy, thought-provoking final sentence. Please avoid clichés like “we need to help the Arab genie force its way out of the bottle.” Make sure your ending tells decision makers what action they should take.
As a think tank we are most interested in specific policy recommendations for the European and North American governments and related international organizations. We appreciate strong theses supported by substantial arguments and innovative ideas as well as a solution-oriented approach for an important, contemporary transatlantic issue. Op-eds should also be comprehensible to members of the general public and not include dense scientific or technical jargon. We are interested in topics ranging from traditional and non-traditional security concerns, the global economy, climate change, NATO and many more.
Last but not least...
Finally, for your op-ed to be published on atlantic-community.org, it must contain the following: an author byline (listing the author's name and affiliation with a relevent institution) and an author photograph (which you can upload yourself or send to email@example.com). Authors should also register as members of atlantic-community.org, which is free and can be done in just a few seconds at http://www.atlantic-community.org/index/users/register. We look forward to receiving your articles!
For more ideas on writing convincing op-eds, try these links:
Photo credit: cc 2.0 DonkeyHotey.