Whether you’re trying to convince an editor to run your op ed or persuade readers to keep reading, a lively opening helps. The following examples offer a wealth of possible approaches.

It has become somewhat of a management mantra: you cannot manage what you do not measure. And, yet, when it comes to the most pressing social problems of our day — like hunger in America — we need so much more than measurement. We need smarter, more collaborative data collection that bypasses organizational silos. And, we need to couple that data with creative, compelling info graphics that spur innovation and action. We need a Hunger Data Consortium.

Integrated marketing consultant Anne Mai Bertelsen uses a bit of catchy alliteration to introduce a piece of conventional wisdom and get our heads nodding. Then she immediately demonstrates that we’re not applying what we know to be effective to our “most pressing social problems.” The inherent contradiction begs further reading, and she rewards us very quickly with some concrete suggested solutions.  Huffington Post – 27 July 2010

Supporters of the prostitution industry want us to believe that women would be safe if men’s purchase of women for sex is legalized. In the name of women’s security, they are arguing in an Ontario court this week that male johns and pimps have a constitutional right to buy and sell women

Associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia, Janine Benedet makes her opening work really hard: She cites the controversial argument she wishes to refute in her first sentence; she gives people a reason to care by specifying its relevance to women’s security; she establishes immediacy by referring to the case being argued this week; and she engages readers emotionally by pairing the notion of constitutional rights with a barbaric practice of treating women as objects or possessions.. Globe and Mail – 7 October 2009

I confess: I do it, too. Like most Western women, I do it regularly, and it is a guilty pleasure every time. It is hard to listen to one’s conscience when one is faced with so much incredible temptation. I am talking, of course, about cheap trendy fashion. I’ll visit a Zara or H&M or…

American author Naomi Wolf piques interest immediately with her first person confession; she creates a sense of community with her claim that “most Western women” share her “guilty pleasure”, a phrase that – along with “incredible temptation”— also promises a little prurience along with the analysis to come about sweat shop labour. Globe and Mail – 5 July 2010

Here are some other ideas about how to begin, taken from columns and op eds written by Informed Opinions trainer, Shari Graydon.

New research

Wife beating is up in Windsor.
(on the social costs of casinos)

Provocative question:

Hands up: how many readers would willingly attend an international conference if the experience was likely to include an inconveniently remote location; a government-imposed nightly curfew; a cruel shortage of toilets; woefully inadequate accommodation; and unusually suspicious treatment by the locals?
(on the commitment of delegates to the UN Women’s Forum in Beijing)

Telling juxtaposition, vivid image

Put this storyboard in the category of ad campaigns we’d like to see: Frame one features an overweight eight-year-old struggling through the hell of elementary school, seated alone in a corner of the cafeteria, salivating over the smell of French fries and suffering the taunts of classmates every time he cracks open a can of soda. Frame two features a committee room on Parliament Hill where food conglomerate representatives and advertising industry lobbyists are arguing that they bear no responsibility for combating the growing obesity epidemic among young people.

Challenge conventional wisdom

In political circles it is sometimes suggested that there’s no such thing as “bad press”. Getting your name in the news, the theory goes, is more important than what’s being said about you. Try telling that to the midwives in this province.
(on the importance of women’s health alternatives)

Unexpected statement:

Like the Fraser Institute, I believe that employment equity should be abolished. Unlike the Fraser Institute, I think we should actually achieve greater equity first.

Reference to popular culture

(celebrity, TV show, song)
You’ve seen the commercials: middle-aged men skip down the street like deliriously happy lottery winners… Women pass on a secret cure as if it were the key to everlasting life… Senior citizens perform their best Plácido Domingo imitations in the shower. Like the woman eating next to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, you find yourself thinking, “I want what they’re having!”
(on the problems with direct-to-consumer advertising)

Dramatic anecdote

Imagine your playful, innocent seven year-old daughter examining her reflection in the mirror. Her expression is grim. She turns to you and inquires, “Do you think I need breast implants?” (on Health Canada’s approval of silicone breast implants)

Compelling quote (and/or reference to a famous person)

To the casual observer, recent headline-makers Hugh Hefner and Sir Winston Churchill don’t appear to have a lot in common. One became the world’s most famous playboy parlaying images of and proximity to naked women into a multi-billion dollar entertainment empire. The other capped his career as the most respected wartime prime minister with a Nobel prize for literature. (on the importance of writing women’s history)

For additional examples of published success stories, see our Graduate Showcase.