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A few weeks ago, a prominent clothing brand launched a new line and accompanying advertising campaign to which I had a visceral reaction. I sat down at my computer and put into words some harsh criticism from my perspective as a brand marketer. The piece was emotional for me, so I knew it was wise to share my opinion piece with a few people for whom I have great respect before I shopped it around for media interest. They pointed out vulnerabilities I hadn’t realized. So, I spent some time reflecting on their feedback—I had to be sure that my argument was sound and that I could support it rationally and logically.

Soon thereafter, an excellent article by Bob Brody made its way to my inbox. Complementary of his seven top reasons why op-eds get rejected, I offer my own tips for submitting not only a strong, original, timely piece based on facts, but one that you can stand on with confidence.

  • Sleep on it. If you are writing about a topic that is emotional or explosive for you, don’t put pen to paper and submit it without a good night’s sleep. You may not feel so strongly the next morning.
  • Check yourself. Of course you are entitled to your own opinions, but find more than one person who will act as a safe sounding board and be honest with you if your reaction seems off base. They also can offer counterpoints that you may have not considered.
  • Consider your representation. Does your opinion represent your personal views, those shared by others in your field or a statement for your institution? Do your personal identities (gender, race, religion, professional background, etc.) validate your voice on the topic at hand, or could you invite a co-author who can lend more credibility?
  • Measure your tone. Separate from how extreme your opinion might be is the tone you use. Is it serious or snarky, arrogant or persuasive, angry or sarcastic? Readers take tone personally because it is directed at them. If you don’t get it right, your message will not be readily received. So of course it’s also important to match the tone to the publication you are targeting.
  • Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Some of you reading the “Call to Action” blog frequently ghostwrite pieces for others. Capturing and expressing another person’s opinion and voice are special skills. And, of course, you can’t ask your executive to say something that she does not believe or has not at least internalized. Sharp editors can decipher when a byline matches the message.

Based on the feedback I received from my small but honest focus group, I may rework my opinion piece or seek a co-author, but for now I’ve shelved it. Sometimes that is the right decision in the moment. Every time you publish a piece, you should feel confident that you can not only defend it but also continue the conversation you started.

Melissa Farmer Richards serves as vice president for communications and marketing at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

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