How to Write an Op-Ed

Op-eds are part of a longstanding tradition which has survived the transition from print to screen.  Most publications today welcome op-ed pieces. 

Succinct, timely, and well-written opinion articles are published daily in print and online media.  Many publications have their own “Op-Ed Page” dedicated to sharing these third-party views with readership.  

Op-Ed is Not a Letter to the Editor

Op-eds are more than the more informal “letter to the editor.”  Letters to the Editor deal with content published by the publication.  The letter may agree with something published recently, or it may provide additional information that was not covered in the piece.  Often, Letters to the Editor voice displeasure or disagreement with something previously published by the newspaper, magazine, or site. 

Letters to the Editor are short.  They deal with recent stories (something published days or a week or two beforehand). 

It’s fine to write Letters to the Editor.  They’re like comments to a noted blog like Grits for Breakfast.  However, if you have more than a paragraph or two, then you may want to consider submitting an op-ed. 

Basics of an Op-Ed

The term “op-ed” is short for “opposite the editorial page.”  It’s a bigger, more complex piece than a letter to the editor. Unlike a letter to the editor, the op-ed may or may not come from a subscriber or dedicated reader of the publication.

Op-eds are longer than letters to the editor, but they are still succinct.  An op-ed will run between 400 -1200 words, depending upon the publication.

It will deal with recent news topics or current events.  These will be areas of concern to the publication’s readership.  A beautifully written op-ed dealing with hurricane relief may not be published in the Chicago Tribune, but it might be most welcome at the Miami Herald. 

The author will have a level of expertise on the subject matter.    It’s true that op-eds help to build the reputation of the author as an “influencer” or “thought-leader,” but it’s also true that most publications want op-eds from those who already have a level of expertise in the subject matter. 

Lawyers practicing in criminal law may write about pending cases dealing with issues before the Supreme Court like capital punishment or search and seizure protections.  Doctors practicing in rural areas may write on the impact of federal funding on health care or how to fight the growing lack of physicians outside urban centers.  You get the idea.

Should You Write an Op-Ed?

An op-ed can be powerful.  It’s possible for your article to reach millions of readers, influencing or educating their perspective on the issue.  It’s tool for good.

It’s possible that you will benefit from increased name recognition, as well.  If you have a public relations or marketing consultant, then they probably love the idea of op-ed submissions to increase your exposure and visibility in your area of expertise.  

Tips for Writing Op-Eds

If you decide to write an opinion article, then consider the following tips:

1. Check the Guidelines

Publications have requirements for op-ed articles.  Follow them.  Here are some examples of publication guidelines for Op-Eds:


2.  Focus on a Single Argument

Limit your piece to a single argument.  There simply isn’t the word count for more than one point to be made.

3.  The Rule of Three

Remember the sage advice of your high school English teacher:  tell them what you will say, say it, then tell them what you said.  The op-ed isn’t the place for beautiful descriptions of a pleasant memory from your childhood to set the tone for the piece.  Get to the argument from the get-go.  

4.  Help the Reader

Consider your reader.  What’s here for them, do you have solutions to the problem after you’ve identified it?  You can’t just argue your position; you need to include recommendations on how to fix things.  Examples are great. 

5.  Write to the Reading Level of the Publication

Consider the reading level of the publication.  Use free software like Hemingway if necessary.


Cool Public Domain Image: Cloud to Ground Lightning in Las Cruces, New Mexico


From Wikimedia Commons:

This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain in the United States.


NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving: Yikes

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  It's also November 23rd, which marks the last seven days of National Novel Writing Month.  With the NaNoWriMo challenge, you commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days.  A full novel in one month.

As for why I'm dedicated to doing NaNoWriMo again this year, well .... right now, it's a very good question.  Yikes, yikes, yikes.

But I return to my reasons, as I shared them with you this year, Dear Reader


Seven Days Left: Will I Finish my 50K Word Count?

And, I'm okay on word count.  I'm close to 38K and that means I'm on track to win this thing as long as I don't slack off between now and November 30th.

But, yes -- tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Yikes, yikes, yikes.

If this were trial prep, I wouldn't fret one bit.  I'd do it without thinking I might fail to meet the goal.  If this was a client's project or a publishing deadline, I would not be concerned one iota.  It would be done on time. 

The Big Reward From This Year's NaNoWriMo

So, why am I pondering the possibility that I might not finish NaNoWriMo this year?  Well, Dear Reader, this is one of the lessons that NaNoWriMo teaches me. 

As a writer, I need to be my first and best client.  I shouldn't prioritize my stuff over my clientele, but I should not consider my work as less important just because I'm writing it for myself.

I thought I had mastered this -- but nope.  But I'm gonna.  Maybe is the big reward that comes from this year's NaNoWriMo.