There are a lot of do’s and don’ts to consider when it comes to writing op-eds. You need to have a truly new or interesting topic, or at least a unique angle or opinion on something. You need to consider the timing of a piece—is there a news hook or a window of opportunity of which you must be mindful? Your language and grammar should be flawless, though we all make mistakes every once in a while. You need to think about word count and potential placement.
Something that often gets put on the backburner until after a piece is already written is audience, but you really should have your audience in mind before you set pen to paper—or, more likely, finger to keyboard. Don’t underestimate the power of your audience as a writing tool.
When I’m working on writing a piece or editing an essay, some of my first questions are: What is the point? Who’s the audience? What’s the goal placement? These questions help me frame the entire piece and edit it with more clarity and nuance.
It’s one thing to craft an excellent written piece and put all of your expertise, content knowledge, and/or opinions in it. It’s another to write something and put all of those things into context of those you hope spend time reading your thoughts.
In my opinion, that’s what can set your writing apart—knowing your audience and honing your language appropriately for them. On any given topic, there are lots of experts with opinions hoping to weigh in, so being able to connect with a specific audience can give you an edge.
Audience drives so much in a written piece, such as tone, language, goals, word count, ideal placement, overall message. It’s the difference between you, we, they and why you might choose one word over another for impact. It also dictates the potential outlet and placement of your piece. If you have tips for students and use student-facing language, you’ll likely find the best success in a student-facing outlet. If you want to make a case for a higher ed topic that appeals to a national, general audience, you shouldn’t use nuanced, jargon-heavy insider language. If you’re trying to personally connect with colleagues, first-person pronouns are absolutely essential.
Of course, you can always edit your language after the fact to better tailor an op-ed to a specific audience or outlet. But by keeping audience in mind before and during writing, you’ll save time in the editing process and likely come out with a stronger finished piece.