Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Writing Op-Eds

I recently helped a friend put together an op-ed. I described it as being like a sonnet - short and with a specific format - so you have to make good use of the space.  I was urging him to get out of the academic mode of offering various approaches and theories. Pick a story and tell it.  An op-ed is a place for focus.

In some ways it reflects the divide between academics and the politicians.  The academics can weigh theories and examine causes - granting that there are never simple explanations.  Politicians, who are usually pretty smart, know all of that. But they have limited time and relatively blunt instruments - so they need relatively straightforward responses to the problems they face.

Business types tell me that they seek a one-handed economist, because otherwise he (or she) will always say, "But on the other hand..."

Think of an op-ed as a silver bullet.  With only one shot, what do you want to hit?

Op-eds are about economy and focus. In a good one, everything extraneous is winnowed out and the reader takes away one thing. There is a life lesson in this somewhere.

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