Most common errors made by aspiring op ed writers – part 2

by Shari Graydon

Far too much research has already documented that when something goes wrong, women are highly inclined to blame the problem or setback on their own deficiencies. This tendency operates in stark contrast to men, who are more likely to blame external circumstances, regardless of the actual cause.

There’s an upside to women’s default of accepting responsibility for a failure: it gives us the opportunity to revisit what happened and fix our part of it, which means we’re not likely to repeat the mistake.

So if you’ve submitted an op ed that hasn’t been published — whether it’s been a week or a month or a year — this posting and the previous one on common errors — may help you identify aspects of what you wrote that got in the way of being considered for the newspaper you sent it to.

6. You didn’t provide anything new. It’s not enough to have an informed perspective on a current news story if your commentary merely expands upon content that’s already been covered. Op ed page readers – and the editors who manage them – expect your analysis to provide new information, a fresh perspective, an angle that hasn’t previously been considered or explored.

7. You don’t give readers a reason to care. You care, or you wouldn’t be writing in the first place. But most other people don’t, and if you want them to understand why they should, you need to make clear what the implications are for them or their families or their community.

8. You’ve failed to anticipate – and refute – the common misconceptions about a controversial issue. If you’re writing about something that is widely misunderstood (a worthy goal), you’ll need to devote some of your limited space to acknowledging the erroneous perceptions, and – respectfully – explaining why they’re wrong, while or before you lay out your own compelling case.

9. You’ve revealed a predictable or alienating bias in the first sentence – which means you’re not likely to sway any opinions: most of your readers will be those who already agree with you. Those who disagree and read on anyway will – having been forewarned – be too busy arguing with your every claim to accept that you may have a point (or two). Whether you’re asking for a raise or writing an op ed, an indirect communications strategy – providing the reasons first, and then the conclusion – is often a wise approach.

10. You’ve used conceptual, hard-to-visualize language.  We live in an age of images, and if your argument is primarily made in theoretical terms, you’re likely asking your reader to work too hard. (Because she has other options: the editorial cartoon! the sports section! Dilbert and the plummeting stock diagrams!) Regardless of what you’re writing about, paint a picture with analogies or use metaphors we can visualize – especially off the top.