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Writing an Opinion-Editorial essay

Public Policy 001
Professor David Brady
Spring 2020
8% of Final Grade
The second writing assignment is an 800 word “Opinion-Editorial” essay. The aim of this
exercise is to stake a clear position in a contemporary public policy debate and give compelling
reasons and/or evidence for the audience to agree with you. The op-ed should build upon and
expand your letter to the editor. Use the same topic as you did in your letter to the editor. Just
like the letter to the editor, you must accomplish the following: (a) clearly identify a public
policy problem; (b) demonstrate the problem is significant (e.g. a lot of people are affected,
failing to address it will cost a lot of money or result in a lot of suffering, etc.); (c) explain why
current public policy is not sufficiently addressing the problem (i.e. what is wrong with our
current government approach); and (d) call your audience to some specific action (e.g. support
adopting a specific policy solution, support policymakers who care about this issue, raise their
awareness about the issue). Unlike some students’ letter to the editor, the op-ed should be
broader than a reaction to a specific piece in the media.
Please feel encouraged to discuss your piece in office hours with your TA or the professor. The
second writing assignment is worth 8% of the total grade and is due at the beginning of your
discussion section in the sixth week. Late assignments will be penalized according to the policy
in the syllabus. The pieces will be graded for the rigor of your argument, the use of evidence and
reasoning, the effectiveness of the writing, and the persuasiveness of the piece. For ideas on how
to format the op-ed or what kind of language to use, check out the “Op-Ed” section of leading
international newspapers (e.g. the New York Times, LA Times, the Guardian or The Financial
Times) or your hometown/local newspaper to learn the typical style of writing. For further tips
on writing an op-ed, this is a helpful resource: https://www.theopedproject.org/oped-basics/ .
While writing, be sure to consider these WRITING GUIDELINES:
1) All text should be double-spaced with 12 point font (preferably Times New Roman) and 1” margins all around.
2) Have a clear argument that: a) unites the entire piece; b) is coherent and relatively focused; c) is explicitly
articulated early in the piece; and d) is clear to the reader by the end.
3) Make every sentence as economical and efficient as possible. Omit needless words. One strategy to make your
writing efficient is to read each sentence and try to say it in fewer words and more simply clearly. Try reading
each sentence while proceeding backwards through the essay (starting with the last and ending with the first).
Try reading sentences out loud. Another strategy is to use active voice whenever possible.
4) The piece should have an “arc of coherence” that is effective. It should have a beginning, an end and the order of
topics should be logical and make sense to the reader. Organize the essay according to your argument (and the
parts of your argument).
5) As much as is possible, arguments and sub-arguments should be explained and supported with evidence. Avoid
unsubstantiated, speculative, emotive or purely ideological claims.
6) Avoid long quotations, and only use quotes if the language is extremely effective and compelling.
7) Say things as simply and clearly as possible. Avoid academic (or other) pretension. Get to the point, cut to the
chase, and be direct and clear. Only use metaphors selectively and when highly effective. Use rhetorical
questions very rarely.
8) Grammatical and spelling errors reflect sloppiness and are inexcusable. Every word processing program has a
spell and grammar check program, and it only takes a few minutes to apply them to your document. Use the
grammar and spell check. Not doing so undermines your credibility. Plus, show your reader the respect s/he
deserves and do not annoy them with carelessness and hastily prepared documents.
9) Avoid colloquial language. Write professionally, respectfully and dispassionately.

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