I recently helped a friend put together an op-ed. I described it as being like a sonnet – short and with a specific format – so you have to make good use of the space. I was urging him to get out of the academic mode of offering various approaches and theories. Pick a story and tell it. An op-ed is a place for focus.
In some ways it reflects the divide between academics and the politicians. The academics can weigh theories and examine causes – granting that there are never simple explanations. Politicians, who are usually pretty smart, know all of that. But they have limited time and relatively blunt instruments – so they need relatively straightforward responses to the problems they face.
Business types tell me that they seek a one-handed economist, because otherwise he (or she) will always say, "But on the other hand…"
Think of an op-ed as a silver bullet. With only one shot, what do you want to hit?
Op-eds are about economy and focus. In a good one, everything extraneous is winnowed out and the reader takes away one thing. There is a life lesson in this somewhere.