Commentaries can make a meaningful impact for clients and their ideas. But far too often, they lack the true opinion oomph that sets a great argument apart.
But before a first fact is sourced, let’s consider the purpose of editorials. Editorials are meant to influence public opinion, promote critical thinking, and sometimes (hopefully) cause people to take action on an issue.
That sounds all well and good, but here’s the magic ingredient – acknowledging an opposing argument. Many shy away from addressing the challenging viewpoint. It’s fine to state positive information about the opposing argument, provided it’s factual, but make no mistake; an issue must be in dispute or there is no “opinion.”
“… an issue must be in dispute or there is no ‘opinion.’ “
Then, you attack the fun portion – balancing the opposing arguments with facts that bolster your side supported by a rational solution that convinces a general reading audience to agree with you.
The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Commentaries:
- Angle and Topic: Will you be reacting to or analyzing a news story? Criticizing a third party’s decision and offering a different solution? Persuading the public to act on an solution? Praising an organization or group of people for doing something notable or controversial? If you are doing none of these, a commentary might not be the right tactic.
- Facts: Next, write the “nut” graph, or the point of the piece, based on facts. Yes, facts in an opinion piece with sources are a must because any reasonable reader wants to be informed and supported facts establish credibility with your audience even more than your byline and tagline. You might be president of your organization, but you set yourself apart as a thought leader when employing well-formed arguments.
- Write, edit, edit, edit: If you have a professional writer on staff or retainer, it’s best to let him or her hammer out a first draft that’s fit to print and then massage it to include the points you wish to make. Avoid editing by committee to keep the message succinct. Also, try to limit the rounds of edits to three so the eyes on the piece give it full attention each time.
- Readable: Build bridges, not barriers. Submit an opinion piece that meets the publication’s length requirements and follows the publication’s particular AP Style. And unless you’re writing for the Wall Street Journal, keep the Fleisch-Kincaid Grade level as close to 8th grade as possible with a low passive sentence percentage. Draw readers in, not away, from your message.
- Placement: Pitching a placement to an editorial page editor takes a bit of finesse and these days, a lot more advance planning. Truthfully, it should happen simultaneously with Step 1. Most editors won’t “guarantee” placement, but they do appreciate a heads up. Pitching for placement just a few days before a preferred publication date probably has a low success rate unless it’s related to breaking news.
After you’ve placed your next opinion-editorial, assess whether it met your goals. If it didn’t, consider what you might do differently next time to achieve a more satisfying outcome.
No matter the results, establishing yourself and your organization as a thought leader on a carefully-selected subject is never a bad move. And every journey into the media spotlight helps you and your team further develop a positive public image.
Erica Holloway is the founder and leader strategist of Galvanized Strategies.