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Writing an Op-Ed

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Op-eds are guest columns, published in the opinion section of the newspaper. They can be a very powerful tool to get your message out. They are your chance to express an opinion on an issue, whether or not the newspaper has covered it recently.

Op-eds are not easy to get published, but following through can help your chances. Send a hard copy, via fax or mail, to the op-ed editor of the paper, and also send an electronic version. Include your name, daytime phone number, and address on the op-ed, and a short byline at the end ("Rev. Jane X is a minister at All Soul's Church. She recently returned from three weeks in Cuba)." Call the morning after the submission to make sure it was received. Keep your call very short. 

Tips

  • Length: Varies from paper to paper, but is usually 500 to 800 words. Guidelines are often published in the paper or on their website—or just call!
  • Before you begin writing consider your and the purpose of the op-ed. Are you calling people to action? Talking "common sense" into misguided public opinion? Pressuring for a change in policy right before a congressional vote? Remember who you are writing to, and gear your writing style toward your audience's level of knowledge. Refine your message based on who you're writing to and stick to the message throughout the op-ed.
  • State your argument in the first paragraph. Use simple sentences, and avoid jargon. Be coherent—make sure that your reader can follow your argument from point to point. Remember that most people don't read articles or op-eds all the way through, so make your most important points at the beginning.
  • Provide concrete evidence to support your points, but don't overwhelm your readers with numbers or statistics. Using personal experiences can be a powerful tool in convincing your audience, especially if you are writing for a local paper.
  • Analogies are a helpful tool, or quirky sound bites, ("Sending more military aid to Colombia is like pouring gasoline on a fire," or our personal favorite, "Congress should remember the first rule of holes: when you find yourself in one, stop digging").
  • Make sure the issue you are writing on is timely, relevant, and in the news. An excellent time to write an op-ed on policy toward a Latin American country would be right before or right after a major event or before a major congressional vote.
  • If you are writing for a local paper, link it to local issues so the paper will be more interested in picking it up.
  • Only submit your op-ed to one newspaper.