The On-Ramp to Writing Success


Great writing example fosters great insights for writers and citizens.

By Jill O’Mahony Stewart

Maybe it’s because I’m from Pennsylvania. Maybe it’s because I love infrastructure [really, I do; it’s another story, though]. Or maybe it’s because I teach writing and I LOVE good examples like this one. 

Whatever the reason, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s [D-PA] recent opinion piece hits home. We fixed I-95 in 12 days. Here are our lessons for U.S. infrastructure.   

One of the more interesting assignments young pros might receive in their careers is to write an opinion piece about an important issue. It’s not an entry-level assignment, but it’s a plum one. Examining examples provides great guidance for those interested in this form of writing.  

In keeping with the “Lessons Learned” format of Shapiro’s article, here are my thoughts for writers on how to proceed:  

  • State your case clearly and right up front. Here is his lede with key words highlighted: 

“Infrastructure is the backbone of America, and our nation’s progress has often been tied to our ability to complete major projects that spur economic growth and create real opportunity.” 

  • Anticipate what the opposition might say and head off their arguments with powerful sentences using strong verbs. In a nifty pivot, he frames up the status quo in paragraph two: 
  • Yet today it often seems like every project — big or small — gets mired in a slog of reviews, permits and delays. This saps our innovative spirit, reduces citizens’ trust that governmentcan get things done and ultimately slows our progress as a nation. 
  • Use specifics; Shapiro captures our attention with numbers and memorable details:  
  • 12 days, four key takeaways, 2,400 permits, certificates, and licenses; 94 percent, eight weeks, etc.  
  • Plus:  
  • “The demolition started as soon as the fire marshal cleared the site…” 
  • “…the state’s transportation secretary practically lived out of trailer on the site…” 
  • “No one had to check with headquarters to keep the project moving; the construction site was the headquarters.  

In addition to being well written, this op-ed has several other lessons for writers and fans of good government: 

  • Share the glory: 
  • Lead with leadership, but recognize teamwork: 
  • “At every step of the I-95 project, local, state and federal officials coordinated closely” … coordination also included contractors and organized labor.  
  • Showcase creativity and innovation: 
  • “We launched a 24/7 live stream so the public – the taxpayers funding our work — could track the progress and feel real ownership.” 
  • Recycled glass, made in Pennsylvania, subbed in for traditional dirt as filler and was in use at a nearby project, but diverted for I-95’s immediate need.  
  • NASCAR provided a turbo dryer from its Pocono Raceway 100 miles away, which enabled the crews to keep working despite wet weather. 
  • Be timely. Get your story out while it is still relevant.  
  • Be timely. Get your story out while it is still relevant.  
  • The I-95 reconstruction took 12 days; this opinion piece followed not long after.  
  • Tell your story – take credit where credit is due. 

 Be sure to communicate your accomplishments to key audiences if you are ever assigned an opinion piece. By breaking down well-written, effective ones like this, and understanding that makes then “good,” you will have a better understanding of what you can do to make yours work, too.  

Jill O’Mahony Stewart is a writing teacher and coach. From 1986-2008 she managed Stewart Communications, a PR firm devoted to “issues that matter.” She is also an adjunct faculty member of both DePaul University’s College of Communication and the School for Continuing and Professional Studies. She is a graduate of Allegheny College and holds an M.S. from Boston University in public relations and an M.A. from DePaul University’s School for New Learning. She was also born and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  

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