Op-eds – essays that appear opposite the editorial pages of newspapers – are powerful communications tools for authors with an informed opinion on a current topic in the news.
An op-ed column or opinion essay lets authors and others use the power of their words to influence opinions on a topic by making an argument for a particular perspective or solution.
Because they’re opinion pieces with a stated bias rather than reported stories, they go in a section of the newspaper that’s set aside for opinions.
Writing and placing an op-ed often involves waiting for a big news story that provides the timely hook you need to get an editor’s attention, then quickly cranking out that essay and getting it to the editorial page editor quickly. It has to run when the topic is still in the news.
Pre-write your op-ed column or essay
It can be hard for a busy author to react that quickly, though. Not everyone can drop everything and write an effective op-ed after learning about a breaking story.
There’s an easy solution to that problem, though: Have at least one op-ed written in advance to use when a news event brings your op-ed’s topic to the public’s attention. When news breaks, simply customize your op-ed column for the situation so it appears fresh and timely.
If you haven’t written an op-ed or opinion essay before, study some that have been published already. Start with what’s run in your local daily newspaper recently so you have a sense of that outlet’s style and preferences. Then look at op-eds in high-profile newspapers such as USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Note rhythm, pattern, and flow. They will guide your own writing process while ensuring that your op-ed is accepted for publication.
10 steps to a perfect op-ed column or opinion essay
Once you’re familiar with how they’re written, you’re ready to craft yours. These 10 tips for writing effective op-eds will help you write at least one that you can have on hand and update according to the news story for immediate publication:
1. Read the publication you’re submitting to. You want to be familiar with its style and tone as well as the types of op-eds it typically runs.
2. Introduce yourself to your newspaper’s op-ed page editor by telephone or e-mail and request the publication’s op-ed guidelines if they’re not on the website (many are). Then follow them.
3. Determine your goal. What do you want to achieve through your op-ed? Do you want people to behave differently or take a specific action? Keep this goal in mind as you write.
4. Select one message to communicate. Op-eds are short – typically 800 words or less – so you have room to make just one good point.
5. Be controversial. Editors like essays with strong opinions that will spark conversation.
6. Illustrate how the topic or issue affects readers. Consider putting a face on the issue by starting your essay with the story of somebody who has been affected, or begin with an attention-getting statistic that will surprise people or make them think.
7. Describe the problem and why it exists. This is often where you can address the opposing viewpoint and explain your group’s perspective.
8. Offer your solution to the problem and explain why it’s the best option. You might need to include alternative solutions to make the case for your own.
9. Conclude on a strong note by repeating your message or stating a call to action.
10. Add one or two sentences at the end that describe your credentials as they relate to the topic. Be sure to include your book title — you’re doing this in large part to get exposure for your book, after all.
Now that you’ve written it . . . .
When your issue is suddenly making headlines, pull up your op-ed and tweak it to reflect what’s in the news.
In an email, write an introduction that connects the news to your essay, copy and paste your essay into the message, and e-mail it to the editor quickly.
You don’t want to send it to more than one newspaper with a national reach — for example, both USA Today and the New York Times or the New York Times plus the Washington Post. It’s okay to send your op-ed to multiple newspapers in noncompeting local markets, though. If you do, try to include a local connection so there’s more of a reason for each publication to run it.
If your nonfiction book or novel involves a cause or issue that you want to bring attention to, consider adding op-eds — opinion essays — to your book marketing plan. Use your words to educate, inform, and persuade while calling attention to your book, too.
Do you read the op-eds in your local newspaper? Tell us in a comment.
(Editor’s note: This article was first published in August 2007. It has been updated and expanded.)
Tip of the Month
Today’s gift is a free social media image size cheat sheet created by graphic artist Louise Myers.
To download and save it, scroll down to the image near the bottom of her blog post, “Social Media Image Cheat Sheet 2018: Must-Have Image Sizes!” Use the right-click, save-image-as method. You might want to bookmark the page, too.
While you’re there, check out Louise’s other resources, too. She provides lots of helpful information.
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