How to Write an Op/Ed (or Argue)

Here’s an NYT piece on Catherine Orenstein’s "how to write an op/ed" class. Nut graf:

During the seminar Ms. Orenstein laid out a basic formula for writing a 750-word op-ed piece (with the caution that “common sense trumps everything I say”): a lead connected to a news hook, a thesis, three points of evidence, conclusion. And don’t forget the “to be sure” paragraph in order to pre-empt your opponents’ comeback, she instructed. (emphasis mine)

Solid advice for any persuasive-writers-to-be. For in-person interactions, however, argumentative strategies must change slightly. For example, at the conclusion of an argument you win, always give your opponent an "out" by offering something you both can agree on. After a bitter back and forth on whether capital punishment is an effective deterrent against crime, you might conclude, "Well, at least we agree that crime is a reality of big-city living and we should do whatever we can to curb it."

There’s a related technique salespeople learn quickly on the job which is not to make the prospect feel wrong (or worse, stupid). Perhaps the prospect blurts out a simply wrong observation about your product. Instead of saying, "No, not at all" the better response is, "That’s the right direction, but we really need to be precise: ….". Correct their error or mis-assumption by turning it into an insight. Make your champion look good in front of her staff.

1 comment on “How to Write an Op/Ed (or Argue)
  • That’s a nice and seamless contrast you drew – from Op-ed to placating a loser in an argument. I enjoyed the derivation.

    By calming him down, you are not just being courteous, you earn his respect since he takes it as your expression of gratitude to him for having participated in the debate. You’ll be richer by an admirer.

    Op-eds allow for structured opinions as the reader takes a while to react, in that he considers the opinion as a whole; arguments between equals are often amorphous, unstructured and highly intrusive – it often could be unsettling since feedback is instant and of ferocious intensity till one of them begin to thaw.

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