Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who Wants to Write an Op-Ed?

Image courtesy of: Pepsi Refresh Stories
This summer, I'll be working with researchers around the country to publish op-eds about the importance of funding for research to improve health, particularly federal funding of NIH. I'd bet you've cranked out hundreds of pages of science writing in your career, and I'll be the first person to tell you that writing for the public isn't the same as writing for academic purposes. But, writing an op-ed is not an impossible feat and I want YOU to be one of the researchers who gets published this summer.

First though, let's take a look back at a post on Op-Ed Advocacy from February of 2009:
One effective way to spread an advocacy message is through submitting an op-ed. Op-ed is short for opposite the editorial page.
Trivia: Most people call them opinion editorials, but editorials are - by definition - opinion pieces.
There are lots of ways to put together an editorial. I like the structure of rubrics, so my preferred method is Monroe's Motivated Sequence or MMS for short. This method can be used for speeches, letters to the editor, op-eds - basically anything persuasive.
  1. Get attention. Also known as the hook, this first part is supposed to grab the reader. Studies show that stories (of any kind) are the best hooks. Make it personal and relevant for bonus points.
  2. Establish Need. What is the problem? Why are you trying to convince the other person to do, support, or think something? This is the reason why you are writing the op-ed.
  3. Provide a Solution. You told us what the problem was, now tell us how to fix it. What would make the situation better?
  4. Vision of the Future. What does the future look like when your solution has been implemented? Use figurative language (but don't get too flowery), and really drive the point home in this section.
  5. Call to Action. Tell people what you want them to do. This is your take-away message and your closing statement. Finish with a bang.
General writing tips:
  • Avoid double negatives
  • Never have more than one rhetorical question
  • Use the reading level setting in your word processor. If it's greater than a 10th grade reading level, simplify.
  • Stick to the specified word count. The paper you'll be submitting to probably has some rules about submissions. If you want to see it in print, follow the rules.
Three good examples of advocacy editorials in support of the NIH funding in the economic recovery package are included below.
Those are the basics for writing an op-ed, and a number of New Voices successfully published pieces (nine to be exact) during our last major op-ed campaign. If you're interested in being published, sharing your passion for why research needs to be funded, or are simply looking for a way to break into the field of advocacy, now is the time. Reply or ask questions in the comments or by email at hbenson at

Contributing to the public dialogue about science has a ripple effect, and it takes very little time to make an incredibly large impact. Start now.

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