Writing Resources

Op-Ed Style Advice:

  • Check your local paper for word limits, but generally stay under 700 words (note, LTEs are even shorter, generally under 250 words).

  • The first sentence must catch the reader's attention.

  • Use a narrative style. Stories with characters, personal perspective, and a plot are memorable.

  • Get specific. Cite an issue and how it will affect you and your community.

  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, and keep the story moving. Each paragraph should range from three to five sentences.

  • Edit your prose. Rewrite “There is/are” sentences. Look at every word ending in –ly and eliminate most if not all of the adverbs. Convert passive voice sentences to active ones. Look critically at all your metaphors, similes and pet phrases to makes sure they are not clichés. Translate all jargon into English.

  • If possible, have someone with values similar to your target audience read and provide feedback.

  • Use timely references, colorful language, and metaphors to get the reader's attention.

  • Don’t just state facts, explain those facts with a story!

  • Look at your district and interests of your congressperson, see where you may be able to move the needle, try to craft a story around that issue. What is in that district? A hospital that is very important for people? A lab providing jobs?

  • Have the pod work together to draft the work, be prepared to rewrite after receiving edits.

Op-Ed Template:

  1. First paragraph: The first sentence must grab the reader's attention. You should explain what the key issue is (science funding in the budget, using science to make regulations) and highlight why this is relevant to your community or district. End with a statement about what you are trying to tell your audience (e.g. “this is why we need to increase government spending for science and research - to produce a better society and improve our lives) (3-4 sentences)

  2. Introduce yourself and connect with the audience: Who are you? What do you have in common with the people you are trying to reach (e.g. shared religion, blue collar upbringing). How do you share their underlying values (not why should they should share your values) (1-2 paragraphs)

  3. Make your case: How does the science you are writing about make society better?  Muster your best two to four supporting arguments or data bits. Be as specific and as articulate as possible. This should relate to themes in the narrative portion of the piece, but can depart from the narrative form in writing and include a statistic or two. (2-3 paragraphs)

  4. Lead with your points and avoid repeating the opposition's arguments. If you want to address their concerns, do so in a short 3rd paragraph, and then restate why your argument is ultimately more solid.

  5. Conclusion: Bring it back to the story, end with the connection and a hopeful message. The last sentence should be memorable, make your overall point stick in the reader’s mind, and again mention that funding for science and the role of science in policy making should be increased, not stay the same or go down (1 paragraph).

Pitching your op-ed to your local paper:

  1. Make sure your op-ed meets the format requirements of the paper (word length, etc.)

  2. Make your pitch the week or August 28th and September 1.

  3. Use the online form, email, and call to follow-up and pitch it directly to the editors.

    • Emphasize why this is "timely.” If writing about the FY18 budget, point out that it  FY18 budget should be finalized by October 1. Point to anything else particularly "news-y" or recent.

    • The pitch includes the length, and length with title and bio notes. It's a little insider-y but it shows the editor that you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t!).

    • Always offer to make edits or tweak. Maybe 10% of the time, an editor will like the idea but not the execution. Some will outright reject but this opens the door to them running something if it only take a few tweaks.

  4. Be persistent with follow-ups until you get a clear yes or no. Don’t worry about annoying the editor, they’re bombarded by everyone.

Real Sample Pitch:

Hello,

I’d like to submit an opinion piece on the proposed cuts to science and research for the fiscal year 2018 budget in xxx agency. I am a NJ native, PhD ecologist, and work as a Science & Technology Policy Fellow at AAAS. The goal of this piece is to explain why, as a scientist, government spending for science and research should increase because science produces a better society and improves our lives, how science impacts NJ, and to urge others to join in concern and protest. I am hoping it can be placed between September 5th and September 15th.

The piece is exclusive at 641 text/691 with title and bio notes. Happy to make any needed edits.

Home address:

Phone:

Thank you for your consideration,
-

[Op-ed pasted below and attached]

Additional Resources

Examples from previous Op-Ed Campaign (on the March for Science):

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/os-ed-why-i-march-for-science-new-voice-20170419-story.html

http://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/04/19/guest-column-why-m-marching-science/100642558/

http://blog.ucsusa.org/science-blogger/march-for-science-a-search-for-truth-trust-and-public-support

http://m.startribune.com/this-weekend-i-ll-be-marching-for-science-will-you/420022333/

http://www.examiner.net/opinion/20170420/guest-column-why-i-march-for-science-and-why-you-should

http://www.app.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/04/19/march-science-rallies/100656816/

http://trib.com/opinion/columns/hoffman-support-march-for-science-in-wyoming/article_e96fc7bf-73dd-591a-bb57-b856dcd4f469.html

http://www.delcotimes.com/article/DC/20170419/NEWS/170419614

http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/guest_columnists/science-is-about-understanding-not-politics/article_ef9fa77c-8633-541b-9dbc-881686093ca6.html

http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/04/why_im_participating_in_the_ma.html

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/opinion/2017/04/13/celebrating-science-shreveport/100384576/

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2017/04/20/Marching-on-for-science/stories/201704200051

http://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-pomeroy-march-for-science-0419-20170418-story.html

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-why-i-marched-20170424-story.html

Sample Op-Ed:

Congress should increase funding for the programs that keep New Jersey safe

by Anjali Kumar

Target paper: The Star Ledger, Essex County, NJ

Current word count: 679

One of the great successes of America is our ability to come together to invest in and improve our society. Yet, the President and Congress are both proposing significant cuts to non-defense spending - the federal budget type responsible for programs that contribute to the long-term successes of our communities. As a scientist, I have seen first-hand how non-defense funding is helping to improve lives right here in New Jersey. Therefore, I urge Congress to invest in the American people and our communities by increasing funding for non-defense programs.

Federal programs to keep our communities healthy, educate our children, and help the USA to remain a leader in research and innovation are right here in Essex County. The Newark Housing Authority, for example, depends on federal funding to build and maintain affordable housing, encouraging economic independence and healthy communities. Similarly, the Upward Bound program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology is federally funded and trains 4,000 women and minorities annually in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). STEM is a quickly growing economic sector and our students will be ready for the job market because we have this program. As a scientist, I am particularly concerned about what cuts to non-defense funding will mean for our ability to restore and rehabilitate the most toxic places in our state, known as “Superfund sites”.                                                                                              

Growing up in Maplewood, I spent my free time exploring parks and wild areas of Essex County with my family, especially my mother, who is a scientist. We splashed through the creeks of Memorial Park, turned over rocks, and talked about how animals like insects, fish, and ducks would be affected if the creeks and streams of our neighborhood park were polluted. She taught me to ask questions, and to always remain curious.

Our conversations about how humans interact with nature inspired me for further study as an ecologist in college and graduate school. While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I learned that mercury, present in many Superfund sites, could make its way into rivers and ultimately end up in the fish we eat. Mercury accumulates quickly in our bodies, affecting our brains and altering how we move, think, and act. As a member of the Essex County community, I am concerned that if toxic Superfund sites are not rehabilitated, similar chemicals will end up harming us.

The Superfund site program has benefitted our society in two major ways. Cleaning up toxic sites contributes both to better health of our communities, and supports our local economy. For example, at a Superfund site on the Hudson River, the mandated cleanup work created 500 local jobs annually for six years, plus employed more than 280 contractors, vendors, and suppliers. At a radium Superfund cleanup site located in Glen Ridge, Montclair and West Orange, the EPA was able to identify homes with high levels of radiation. They then worked with the State of New Jersey to remove contaminated soil from properties and restore them. This effort allowed people to remain safely in their homes, and preserved the value of the houses, which many rely on as a primary form of investment.

If Congress is unable to increase non-defense funding, the EPA’s Superfund Program is likely to be severely limited; the program could even be defunded. This would stop projects like the cleanup of the Lower Passaic River in Newark, which is contaminated with toxins such as DDT, Agent Orange, and dioxin. If these chemicals are not removed, the long-term health of people in New Jersey, and all areas downriver, will be affected.

My niece and nephew are now growing up in Maplewood. I care about not only their health but also the health of their friends and neighbors. For Essex County to continue to prioritize improving the health and safety of our community, we need the support of federal funding.

It is not enough for non-defense spending to remain flat, we must increase funding, not just on the defense programs that keep us safe, but also on the non-defense programs that build a better society here at home.