Push it to the limit . . . with a strong thesis

Push it to the limit . . . with a strong thesis

Want to write a New York Times or Wall Street Journal-quality op-ed? First, watch Scarface.

The 1983 Brian De Palma classic contains the secret to great op-ed writing within one of the best movie montages of all time. The “Push It to the Limit” mash-up doesn’t just chronicle fictional crime lord Tony Montana’s rise to the top of a 1980s Miami cocaine trafficking empire — it also offers crucial writing tips.

Lyrics encourage listeners to “take it maybe one step more,” “double the stakes,” and, of course, “push it to the limit.”

In other words, be provocative. When judging unsolicited op-eds, newspaper editors look for controversial pieces, both because those pieces are the most fun to read, and because controversy leads to more clicks, comments, and shares — which in turn lead to higher ad revenue.

As a general rule of thumb, a thesis should be sharp and provocative enough that at least three out of ten readers could disagree with it. Therefore, don’t just argue puppies are cute — write that anyone who doesn’t own a puppy is robbing herself of all that is good in this world.

To increase the odds of a top placement, writers must take a provocative stance and then confidently and convincingly defend it.

If you can do that, the (op-ed) world is yours.

Colin Valentine