What’s an op-ed piece?
It’s a brief article that informs readers about a problem or situation and, sometimes, encourages someone to take action. Op-eds are written by members of the public and usually printed opposite editorials written by the newspaper’s staff. Now that most newspapers—even small local ones—have websites, op-ed pieces are often published online.
How is an op-ed different from a letter to the editor?
You write a letter to the editor to comment on a news story or editorial that the paper recently published. You write an op-ed piece to draw readers’ attention to a situation you care about and ask someone to take action.
How do I start?
1) Contact your local paper or closest city newspaper. Does it run op-ed pieces? If so, how many words? Should you send text pasted in an e-mail? Attached to an e-mail? As a fax? Who can you call to follow up?
What’s next? Planning.
2) Get the facts about the situation in your school or district. Go to “Explore the Situation at your school” to find out how.
3) Decide what to emphasize. Most op-ed pieces are fairly short (fewer than 750 words), so you must be selective.
4) Make a list of key points to include.
You are ready to write.
5) For inspiration on how to arrange your ideas, you can look at the samples linked to the bottom of this page.
6) Here is an example of an op-ed that you can customize with your information. You can view tips for customizing on this version of the op-ed.
Send and publicize.
7) To send the op-ed to the paper, follow the instructions you got when you called. (What if they want a fax but you don’t have a fax machine? Go the public library, a copy shop, or an office-supply store. Most will send your fax for a small fee.)
8) Follow up with a phone call to the newspaper. Did they get the e-mail or fax? Can they tell you if and when to look for your op-ed piece in the paper or online?
9) When your op-ed is published, tell EVERYBODY! Your goal is to get people to read your op-ed and to influence decision-makers in your school district. Post a link on Facebook. Tweet. Phone your friends and parents of your kids’ friends. If the op-ed is published online, e-mail a link to your friends, the school librarian, the superintendent of schools, the school board—you get the idea!
10) If your op-ed piece is published online, be sure to look at the page every day or two. Some websites let readers comment. You might be able to answer a reader’s question or correct a misconception. (Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. Feel free to copy those answers!)
Sample op-ed pieces
A retired high school librarian comments on the school librarian’s role in encouraging students to find books they love and develop important research skills: “Not only do librarians match students with good books, they lead instruction in research skills (so important with today's Common Core curriculum), support teachers with books, materials, technology and so much more.” Read more...
An author of books for young adults points to research showing that strong school library programs led by a certified school librarian help ALL students do better in school, including students whose parents can’t afford to provide all the resources kids need to do well in school: “[Research] tells us that even after adjusting for factors such as parental education, father’s occupation, and social class, the impact of having books available in the home is as strong a predictor of school success as socioeconomic status.” Read more...
The director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of school libraries focuses on the situation in Los Angeles, where many of the students most in need of school libraries and school librarians have very little—or no—access to school libraries, and the ratio of students to school librarians is 6000 to 1! She, too, cites research about the link between school libraries and student achievement and says: “Many students tell me that a well-stocked library is the best thing about school.” Read more...
Learn What an Op-ed Article Is and How to Write It
An op-ed is an opinion piece that a freelance writer may find themselves writing on behalf of a client, such as a nonprofit or business. The op-ed is a chance for the organization to garner some publicity for themselves and to perhaps sway public opinion about an issue. It is one kind of article or piece that freelance writers who specialize in journalism writing or PR writing may find themselves producing.
The Purpose of an Op-ed
The op-ed is usually longer than a regular letter to the editor is. It is often written by a subject matter expert (so this might be an instance of ghostwriting for the freelancer). In addition to a freelancer writing this on behalf of an organization, they are frequently written by a PR writer within the organization or other staff employees- such as a staff writer.
They are written in answer to a piece of news or to another opinion within the newspaper. For example, new immigration laws may push nonprofit immigration advocates to write an op-ed in favor of the new laws. An op-ed is anywhere from 300-700 words long, and sometimes a biography line and/or a photo of the "writer" (or subject matter expert) runs with the piece. Here are some tips on how to write an op-ed.
Own the Opinion
This will generally come from the client unless you've written for them a long time and are familiar with their stances.
Know what the end outcome of the op-ed is. Know what you want the reader to come away thinking and believing.
Start With a Hook
Just like in any other piece of writing, your reader is going to make a decision within just a few seconds whether or not they will continue. I like to start with a story that is personalized to the issue- but a brief one.
Be careful with this—I'm not telling you to pad your beginning with too much work-up.
The hook should be relevant to the issue. For example, I once began an op-ed about immigration law with a couple sentences about a woman who was waiting for her husband to return from Syria, where he was getting his papers in order, right when the recent violence broke out. It was brief but relevant.
Again, this will sound familiar, as it's true with many kinds of writing: Know your audience. Think of who reads the paper, who reads that section of the paper, and who reads about that particular issue. Then, aim for them. This might mean decisions about what levels of words you use, or what kinds of stories you tell. It means avoiding industry-speak. Another point when talking about aim is timeliness. Hopefully, your client is initiating this oped at a good time- such as when the issue is making news, or when someone else has written an (opposite) opinion about that matter to which you can respond.
Back It Up
Opinions necessitate reasons and support. What are yours (or your clients')? Work them in there. Do I really need to tell you to massage stats and other figures and items that may be boring?
Nah, you're a writer—you already know this!
Follow the Rest of the Rules
As a writer, you know the basics, right? Don't use passive sentences because you think they sound special. Cut your darling words. Stick to one subject. These are especially true when it comes to pieces that have to compete for limited space. You can please your client and be hired again if you can write work that gets them published.
End With Action
Don't leave your readers saying So? Tell them to support something- even if you can't give them an explicit action such as "go vote." This is also important because your readers will skim and scan, even if they're not reading on the internet. End it well.