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News / Working with Media / Writing an Op-Ed

Tips for Writing an Op-Ed

If you have a strong and interesting opinion to share and you can express it clearly and persuasively, an op-ed may be a good avenue for you to reach a local or national audience. Use this guidance to get started.

  • Op-Ed Make a claim that is interesting and relevant to the reader. You have a very short time (10 seconds or less) to hook a busy reader, so put the claim at the top of the article. If you cannot explain your claim in a sentence or two, you’re trying to cover too much.
  • If possible, link your issue explicitly to something happening in the news. If you study concussions, reference the college football star who was sidelined after a major head hit during yesterday’s championship game. An op-ed and Sunday Review editor at the New York Times says “Submissions that are reacting to news of the world are of great value to us, especially if they arrive very quickly.”
  • Back up your claim with evidence, evidence, and more evidence. And look for great examples that will bring your argument to life. Remember the Pentagon’s overpriced toilet seat that became a symbol of reckless federal spending? You probably don’t recall the total Pentagon budget for that year. People remember and respond to colorful details better than dry facts.
  • Tell readers why they should care. Put yourself in the place of the busy person looking at your article. At the end of every few paragraphs, ask out loud: “So what? Who cares?” You need to answer these questions. Will your suggestions protect readers from disease? Make their children healthier? Explain why.
  • Be clear, succinct, and not subtle. Avoid jargon. Editors are looking for pieces that are straightforward and easy to read. The New York Times editorial team says, “We are normal humans (relatively speaking). We like to read conversational English that pulls us along. That means that if an article is written with lots of jargon, we probably won’t like it.”
  • Write in your own voice. If you are funny, be funny. Don’t write the way you think important people write, or the way you think important pieces should sound. Use personal stories, like a poignant experience with a patient or family member, and then describe how this made you feel. Stories that show your character and humanity will help you connect with readers.
  • Offer specific recommendations. An op-ed is your opinion on how to improve matters, so you need to do more than just describe a particular problem or situation. Recommendations should be more specific than calling for “more research!” or “more funding!” Suggest concrete, realistic actions that readers or policymakers can take that will make a difference.
  • Restate your case at the end. In addition to a strong opening paragraph, it is important to summarize your argument in a strong final paragraph. Busy readers may only read the headline and glance at the opening and closing paragraphs. If you have done a good job, the opening and closing will get readers thinking, and may entice them to read the whole piece.
  • An ideal length is 800 words, but a first draft can be longer or shorter and we can arrive at a sweet spot during the editing process.
  • Don’t worry about the headline. Newspapers write their own headlines. Feel free to suggest one, but they probably won’t use it.