20/20 #20 — IMHO: Op/eds, comments, letters to the editor, blogs

Many people write comments or blog posts just to blow off steam. They rant on and on, with little care for facts and less for style. You are different. You care about truth, you care about the issue at hand, and you want to convince other people of the importance of this issue. That’s why you need these Ten Commandments for Writing Your Opinion.

Thou shalt be:

1. Short

2. Focused  Grab the reader’s attention with your first sentence. State what you want them to know. Follow up with short, clear factual points. Focus on what is most important.

3. Timely  Write right away—before your readers have forgotten what the issue is. Respond quickly to news stories, columns or editorials.

4. Original  So the Sierra Club sent out a great set of talking points or a sample op/ed column or letter to the editor. DO NOT send it to an editor as your own. The Sierra Club won’t care, but editors will.

If you are going to write, use your own words. Be specific. Write about “the DREAM Act” rather than “immigration policy.” Or about a particular person you know, or whose story you know, not about “teachers who spend lots of money on classroom supplies.”

5. Professional  Check the guidelines of the publication to find out how to submit your opinion, what rules apply (if any), what length is recommended, and where to send your submission.

Send your submission to only one media outlet. Include your email address and your actual address and telephone number, so the editor can verify your identity. Save a copy of your submission, and make a note of when you sent it.

6. Personal  Your readers (yes, they are YOUR readers) want to know how this affects them personally, or their neighbors personally. Bring the global issues home.

7. Polite  You are not a dittohead. Disagree without being disagreeable. Refrain from name-calling.

8. Accurate  Get your facts straight. Know where you got them, and that your source is reliable. Be prepared to tell your editor or anyone else where your facts came from. Also be specific—if you are responding to a particular statement, cite it (Senator Dufus’s position on trade policy, as stated in the Star Tribune, p. xx) or quote it (As Senator Dufus said, “blah, blah, blah.”)

PROOFREAD. Then proofread again.

9. Rewritten  I’m a pro. I reread and rewrite my work. Enough said?

10. Persistent  If at first you don’t get published—keep trying.


In what ways are opinion articles and reporting similar? In what ways are they different?

What are the differences between comments and letters to the editor? What are op/ed articles and how are they different from blog posts?

©2008-2009 Mary Turck