For the past several years, in my career in public relations, I’ve help hundreds of CEOs and thought leaders develop op-eds for all kinds of national publications. As I’ve been doing this work, I’ve realized what an important tool op-eds can be for the military and veteran communities. To outsiders, the military can seem like a closed, mysterious world, and people want to know more about it. Consider the many prominently placed op-eds written in defense of Navy Captain Brett Crozier. The public cares greatly about our military, and they want to hear the perspectives of those with military experience.
Many active-duty servicemembers will likely be hesitant to write an opinion piece; they can, but what they write will be subject to a security review. But military spouses, veterans and others involved in the defense community can also advocate for our servicemembers and their needs.
If there is an issue you care about, consider writing an op-ed to a local or national paper or website. Here are some tips:
Keep it short. Editors want short, and readers want short. The ideal word count for op-eds is 500-800 words. Avoid complex sentences with lots of commas; shorter sentences are more easily read on mobile devices. If you have a publication in mind, check their length guidelines.
Have an opinion. Come up with your viewpoint and your argument before you start writing, and build your piece around that. An op-ed is not an essay. It should convey a very definitive view or perspective and should have the evidence to back it up. It’s always best to tie the op-ed to something that happened in the news recently.
Talk about your background. Early in the op-ed, include a sentence or two explaining your experience in the military community. This will help give you authority as a writer.
Find good evidence. Cite statistics from reputable sources that back up what you’re saying. For example, if you are writing about the need for companies to hire more military spouses, cite data showing that military spouses have higher unemployment rates than non-military spouses. Evidence can also be personal anecdotes, quotes from other thought leaders you interview, or points made in scientific research, academic papers, think tanks, etc.
Offer a solution. Make sure you give your readers a concrete call to action. Do you want them to frequent veteran-owned businesses? Write their congressman? Hire military spouses in their company? Help advocate on social media?
Do your research. Not all publications accept op-eds, and you may have to do a little digging to find out how to submit it. Know that you may have to submit it to several publications before it is accepted by one. Make sure you know the target audience of the publication you’re submitting to (political leaning, age demographic, profession, etc.). If you’re writing about the military, decide whether your op-ed is directed at those with or without military experience.
Also, don’t assume that because you are “just a military spouse” or “just a local business owner” that you can’t get published in major national publications. It’s all about having a compelling, relevant story to tell and a compelling point of view. I’ve known military spouses who have never published anything before who have ended up in The New York Times, and I’ve known major CEOs who have been rejected dozens of times by The New York Times.
As a community, we have to speak up in support of our servicemembers, our veterans and their families. Sometimes an eloquent written argument is the best way to do that.