An op-ed piece is a great opportunity to gain exposure for a CEO and raise awareness of an issue, but opinion writing is challenging.

Commentaries and editorials are not like ordinary news writing or feature writing. Op-ed writing requires a well-crafted argument that will stimulate dialogue, influence people’s attitudes, and perhaps move them to act. The who, what, when, where, why, and how need to be included, but there is more to an effective argument, and it begins with an opening that lays out a path.

Avoid a common mistake: Writers often take too long to make clear what position they are advocating, and readers lose interest.

A common way to open is to simply state the position succinctly in an opening sentence or two, as in this example:

People seeking to do small outdoor projects that will cause minimal environmental impact are finding it easier and cheaper to use a new, abbreviated permitting process that other government agencies also should adopt.

Another approach is S-B-P (situation-background-position). Summarize the issue that prompted you to write. By pulling together known facts, you bring the unfamiliar reader up to date and put the issue in context. This might consume two paragraphs, possibly three. Then the reader needs to know the position you are advocating or the idea you want people to consider. Otherwise, the reader will start to feel lost. Here is an example:

First paragraph (situation)

As the race for mayor enters the home stretch, we are witnessing a substantive debate on the future of the city, spanning education, public safety, the environment, and economic development. One critical element of our future is how we support our innovation economy. (The second sentence hints at where the writer is heading.)

Second paragraph (background)

In the past 20 years, the city has developed a rare innovation community in which large and small companies are fueled by our scientific, academic, entrepreneurial, and venture capital strengths. Although this as created thousands of jobs and dozens of new medicines and technologies, its future is not guaranteed, because other regions are attempting to capture a piece of our success.

California, for example, had significant more venture capital investment last year across each of five industries: software, biotech, energy, medical devices, and IT services. Nearly 1,300 companies received about $14 billion in venture funding, while 326 companies in our state received $3 billion.

Third paragraph (position)

To protect our future, we must change these trends. The next mayor must be a leader in fostering a strong economic climate …

From here, the piece broadens out, with subsequent paragraphs developing the main idea and providing supporting evidence for the writer’s position.