) I’m asking you to write a 800 to 1200 words piece on a topic of your choosing on anything related to Hydrogen geopolitics, geoeconomics, policy-design, market perspectives or market-design.
Typically, an op-ed piece is short, between 600 and 800 words. Here, I’m asking you to write a slightly longer piece because it will require a shorter rewriting and editing time for you and you will have a bit more space to make sure your argument is compelling.
As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to write short 600 to 800 words op-ed pieces in less than 2 hours but, having been writing op-eds for 10 years now, I can assure you this takes practice. With that said, if you feel like you already have what it takes to write a 600 to 800 words piece, I’ll accept it. And, if your piece holds on together, is stylish and is compelling, I may give you extra-credit for it. However, bear in mind that, if you choose to go down that road, you’re taking a double risk: 1) it’s gonna take you longer to write/rewrite/edit and 2) you will have less space to make a compelling argument and your piece might end up being too superficial. That was my friendly warning, lol. 😇
2) An op-ed piece has a clearly defined point of view. It is a one-sided piece in which you make a statement/defend your opinion. You’re not confronting ideas against each other such as in traditional french dissertations — where you’re supposed to make point, study the opposite point and synthesize the two in your conclusion. You’re here to make a point, defend it, and make it stick in your reader’s mind.
3) An op-ed piece represents clarity of thinking. Aim for 1 overall argument and 3 to 5 carefully crafted paragraphs providing evidence to support your overall argument. No more.
4) An op-ed piece contains the strong, unique voice of the writer. This is not a journalism piece where you would confront views against one another. With that said, you can always quote other people here or there if said quotes support your overall argument well.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing an Op-Ed or Column
• Do I have a clear point to make?
• What is it?
• Who cares? (Writing with a particular audience in mind can inform how you execute your column. Who is it that you are trying to convince? Why are you targeting that specific reader? Don’t write it for me only. If your piece is good enough, I’ll be more than happy to offer you to have it published in a French or foreign media outlet. So, write as if you were talking to a specific target audience.)
• Is there substance to my argument? (Provide data, specific cases, maps or whatever evidence you like. But, do provide evidence to support each claim or point of yours!)
Topic and Theme
Every successful op-ed piece or column must have a clearly defined topic and theme.
• Topic: the person, place, issue, incident, or thing that is the primary focus of the column. The topic is usually stated in the first paragraph.
• Theme: another level of meaning to the topic. What’s the big, overarching idea of the column? What’s your point? Why is your point important? The theme may appear early in the piece or it may appear later when it may also serve as a turning point into a deeper level of argument.
While columns and op-ed pieces allow writers to include their own voice and express an opinion, to be successful the columns must be grounded in solid research. Research involves acquiring facts, quotations, citations, or data from sources and personal observation. Research also allows a reader to include sensory data (touch, taste, smell, sound, or sight) into a column.
There are two basic methods of research:
• Field research: going to the scene, interviews, legwork; primary materials, observations, and knowledge
• Library, academic, or internet research: using secondary materials, including graphs, charts, and scholarly articles
Of course, the best way to back up your claims and points will be to use what we’ve already seen in class together. But you can go further and do research on your own, too, if you feel like you need it.
The title and the first line of an op-ed are crucial. The opening “hook” may grab the reader’s attention with a strong claim, a surprising fact, a metaphor, a mystery, or a counter-intuitive observation that entices the reader into reading more. The opening also briefly lays the foundation for your argument.
Every good column or op-ed piece needs a strong ending which has some basic requirements. It:
• Echoes or answers introduction
• Has been foreshadowed by preceding thematic statements
• Is the last and often most memorable detail
• Contains a final epiphany or calls the reader to action
There are two basic types of endings. An “open ending” suggests rather than states a conclusion, while a “closed ending” states rather than suggests a conclusion. The closed ending in which the point of the piece is resolved is by far the most commonly used. It can also be a call to action. Of course, I’m open to any type of ending here.
Having a strong voice is critical to a successful column or op-ed piece. Columns are most typically conversational in tone, so you can imagine yourself have a conversation with your reader as you write (a short, focused conversation). But the range of voice used in columns can be wide: contemplative, conversational, descriptive, experienced, informative, informed, introspective, observant, plaintive, reportorial, self-effacing, sophisticated, humorous, among many other possibilities.
Sometimes what voice you use is driven by the publication for which you are writing. A good method of perfecting your voice is to get in the habit of reading your column or op-ed out loud. Doing so gives you a clear sense of how your piece might sound – what your voice may come off as – to your intended reader.
If you’d like me to get a better understanding of your overall approach to this assignement — like, if you’re writing your piece having a specific eventual publication outlet in mind, feel free to let me know by adding a short note at the bottom of the assignment.
Some things to remember as you revise your op-ed or column before you submit it for publication:
• Check clarity.
• Check coherence and unity.
• Check simplicity.
• Check voice and tone. (Most are conversational; some require an authoritative voice.)
• Check direct quotations and paraphrasing for accuracy.
• Check to make sure you properly credit all sources though, once again, formal citations are not necessary.
• Check the consistency of your opinion throughout your op-ed or column.
Below are links to some online resources related to op-ed and column writing:
This assignment brief is adapted from the notice titled “How to Write an Op-ed or Column”, prepared by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Communications Program. They regularly run workshops on writing op-eds and columns as well as classes focusing on the topic. Visit: http://www.hkscommunicationsprogram.org
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