An op-ed, of course, expresses a point of view, an opinion, an argument. It also informs—it explains sometimes-complex topics to people who know nothing about the subject at hand. The best op-eds do so in about 600 words. If you can’t make a coherent and sensible argument in that number of words, then you’re not focused enough. (Editor’s note: The term “op-ed” comes from its traditional placement in a newspaper—opposite the Editorial page.)
An effective op-ed always starts at what Aristotle termed the point of consubstantiality—a point where both sides agree (spoken arguments in public debate, the true meaning of “rhetoric,” were the op-eds of Aristotle’s day).
For example, any two people would probably agree that there is too much congestion on the roads in Atlanta. But one person thinks public transportation should be the solution, while the other believes added road capacity makes more sense. A good op-ed writer should be able to make either argument, and in a way that makes complete sense—so much sense that you may even change your mind. Changing opinions, after all, is the purpose of an op-ed.