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10 Tips for Writing a Powerful Op-Ed

An opinion editorial, also known as op-ed, is a narrative essay that presents a writer’s opinion or thoughts on a specific issue. Op-eds can serve many purposes: 

  • Raise awareness about a particular topic; 
  • Persuade others to take a certain position; or 
  • Substantiate a writer as an expert on a subject. 

Op-eds are most commonly published in daily newspapers or their digital editions, and they are typically around 600-700 words. Sometimes op-eds are written by newspaper staff or their syndicated writers, however most are submitted by the publication’s readers, politicians, experts, and organizational leaders. 

This post contains ten tips for writing an effective op-ed that can make it more likely to be published. 

1. Track the News and Jump at Opportunities 

A critical component of getting an op-ed published is timing. When an issue is dominating the news that is what the readers want to read about and op-ed writers want to publish. Whenever possible, you should link your issue explicitly to something current. For example, if a report was just issued on declining school test scores, start by discussing that report and how it relates to local schools. 


2. Make a Single Point - Well

You only have 700 words to make your point, and make it well. You should be satisfied with making a single point that is clear and persuasive. If you are not able to explain your message in 1-2 sentences, then you’re trying to cover too much information. To get a sense of how this is done, we recommend reading some op-eds and identifying the style and tone that you like. 


3. Tell the Readers Why They Should Care 

A best practice is to put yourself in the shoes of the person, who is most likely very busy, that is reading your op-ed. By the end of your piece, the reader should be able to answer these two questions: “So what?” and “Who cares?” Appeals to self-interest are more effective than abstract punditry. Concentrate on the issue and make sure you clearly explain how your recommendations will address the issue you’re writing about. 


4. Offer Specific Recommendations 

An op-ed is not a news story. It is your opinion about how to improve matters. In an op-ed, you shouldn’t provide just analysis or research. Rather, it’s important to offer concrete recommendations that will tackle the problem you’re addressing.


5. Use the Active Voice and Avoid Wonky Jargon 

An op-ed is your opinion and, as such, you should use the active voice. Avoid passive language like “It’s hoped that…” or “It’d be better if…” The active voice is easier to read and leaves no doubt about who is making the recommendations. 

In the same vein, it’s also important to make sure the language you’re using is accessible to the reader. With that said, simple language doesn’t mean simple thinking. Rather, it means that you are being considerate of the readers who may lack your expertise. We recommend having someone outside of your field read a draft of your op-ed to make sure that they can comprehend the points you’re trying to make. 


6. Play Up Your Personal Connection to the Readers

Daily newspapers are struggling to compete with national publications, television, blogs and others. To address this, they are playing up their local roots and coverage. Op-ed editors at these daily papers increasingly prefer to publish op-eds from authors who live locally or have other local connections.

If you’re running for local office, you are ideally situated. If you’re submitting an op-ed in a city where you once lived or worked, be sure to mention this in your cover note and byline. Likewise, if you’re writing for a publication that serves a particular profession, ethnic group or other cohort, let them know how you connect personally to their audience.


7. Embrace Your Personal Voice 

The best of examples come from your own personal experience. If you are a teacher, talk about how the pandemic has affected your students, and then tell the reader what you think needs to be done to address it. If you are a doctor, describe the plight of one of your patients, and then tell us how this made you feel personally. By speaking from personal experience, your words will hold more weight and the reader will care more about what you are saying. 


8. Acknowledge the Other Side 

People writing op-eds sometimes make the mistake of piling on one reason after another about why they’re right and their opponents are wrong. However, this tactic often loses the reader and the author would appear more credible, as well as humble and appealing, if they acknowledge the ways in which people on the other side are right. When you see experienced op-ed authors saying “to be sure,” that’s what they’re doing.


9. Make Your Ending a Winner 

While a strong opening paragraph or “lead” is important for hooking a reader, it’s also critical to summarize your argument in a strong final paragraph. Many casual readers may scan the headline, skim the opening, and then read the final paragraph and byline. So, to get their attention and close the circle, it’s important to conclude with a phrase or thought that appeared in the opening. 


10. Relax and Have Fun! 

You will improve your chances of being published if you approach the op-ed in a lighter, fun, and entertaining tone. Newspaper editors dislike weighty articles—known in the trade as “thumb suckers” —and delight in an academic writer who chooses examples from both “Entertainment Tonight” and eminent authorities.


Submitting Your Op-Ed

Almost all newspapers and commentary sites post their guidelines about how they prefer to receive op-ed submissions. Generally, they provide an email address where you can submit the article. Importantly, always include your contact information and note whether you have a professional photo of yourself available. 


Reflections & Preparation

  • What education issues are hot topics right now about which you may have strong feelings or opinions? 
  • Brainstorm 2-3 of your priorities you would like to highlight and consider if they are relevant and timely to other readers at this moment. 
  • Read several op-eds to identify the style of writing and tone that you like.

Explore how to set yourself up for success as an elected leader.

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