Why write an op-ed?
Op-eds, and more broadly any opinion piece, are a way to get your message out to a wide range of readers. If you get published in a national publication you have a chance to get your message read by more people than attended your last public speech.
Op-eds and opinion pieces are a way for you to establish your credibility with a wide range of readers. They are an opportunity to make new connections with readers you didn’t even know would be interested in your ideas. You can use an op-ed to raise your own profile; to raise the profile of your organization or business; to elevate the conversation of an issue close to you. They are another tool to advocate for your point of view.
Who should write an op-ed?
You could be the head of a non-profit, your own company, a local advocacy group, an elected officeholder (or soon to be), or you are simply someone with an opinion and you want to be heard.
The best op-eds are born out of personal experience and perspective. They give heart and emotion to an issue relevant to their readers’ lives while arguing persuasively for a particular point of view.
Here are a few op-ed examples:
- A doctor detailing how end-of-life conversations have changed during the CV-19 crisis
- A parent and coder explaining why he won’t teach his children to code
- A writer on privacy demonstrating the risks of Alexa’s “always on” listening capabilities
- A juror giving his perspective on mandatory minimums with drug laws
- Professors and a healthcare CEO giving their opinion on balancing reopening the economy and public health
What makes one op-ed more effective than another one?
Successful op-eds come down to a few common elements:
- The writer has a clear opinion and makes the case for it
- The writer balances emotion, logic, storytelling, and proof
- The writer keeps the op-ed within the publication’s bounds including their word limit, style, and voice
- The writer addresses an issue that will matter to their readers–it could be a tie-in to a national story or any subject relevant to their lives
What structures work well for op-eds?
The easiest structure to follow is called: Hook, Teach, Ask.
Hook your readers early on by grabbing their attention with a short story, dialogue, or a striking sentence. Your goal is to get them to read past the first paragraph over their morning coffee.
Next, Teach your readers your point of view. This can be through a personal experience, history, statistics, new research, or any of the above combined. Rather than “argue” I like the approach of “teaching,” as that opens up many avenues to get your point across. Think of how you might approach the subject at a party or over a few drinks at a bar with someone who is willing to listen to you make your case.
Finally, Ask–this is your call-to-action. It can be something as direct and straightforward as “get out and register to vote,” or something larger, “Commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” But you don’t want to persuade your readers to your point of view and not ask them to do anything once persuaded.
What are the general rules for an op-ed?
Op-eds typically range from 500 to 750 words but can be longer depending on the publication. AP-Style is the norm for news publications. However, the golden rule is to follow the submission guidelines laid out by the publications. If you can’t find them, email the person who manages the opinion section and just ask.
How do you submit an op-ed for publication? What happens if you get rejected?
Most publications have a page on their website detailing the rules for submissions. You’ll usually submit to an editor or associate-editor that oversees the guest opinions.
It’s best practice to read the 10 most recent opinion pieces to get a feel for the subjects covered, the voice of the writers, and the general style that the pieces take. If a subject has been covered recently you will have to write with a different perspective than what has been covered before.
Some publications want a short pitch of your idea followed by why you are able to write on the topic. Others want the full piece. If the publication publishes frequently, you should get a response within a few days if not a week. If not, you can follow up in a reasonable amount of time. If you don’t hear back in a reasonable time-frame or are rejected, you can submit your piece to another publication.
You can submit to publications like the New York Times or the Washington Post, but they get many submissions each day. Instead, also aim for publications and trade journals that have niche readerships of the people you want to reach.
What’s next if you want to write an op-ed?
If you need help with ideas, writing the piece, or editing it, please get in contact with me (firstname.lastname@example.org)