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How to Write an Op Ed

How to Write an Op Ed

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Published by Erin O'Sullivan

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Published by: Erin O'Sullivan on Jul 10, 2012
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 What is an Op-Ed?
Originally, an op-ed was any column that in a newspaper appeared opposite the editorial page – the page wherethe editorials appear and the newspaper staff expresses opinions on all things great and small, from climatechange to the local school board.In theory, columns and op-eds are the only places in a newspaper where opinions are expressed. (In theory,because of course opinions creep into news stories even though they teach you in journalism school not toexpress opinions in news stories.)Op-eds and Letters to the Editor are the only places in a newspaper – whether print or on-line – whereoutsiders can express their opinions. Op-eds are therefore an incredibly important opportunity you have toinfluence public opinion.How long should an op-ed be?If you’re thinking about writing and submitting an op-ed to your local newspaper, you should contact theeditorial page editor for guidelines. Often, newspapers have recorded voice mails telling you how to submit anop-ed, and how long it should be. Generally, length is 650 words, but that varies from newspaper to newspaper.Before you start …Before you start, you should know that the chances of your op-ed being accepted – often depending on thesize of the newspaper – are not big. The New York Times receives at least 200 op-ed submissions every day,from which it might select one for the newspaper. Small newspapers receive far fewer, so they offer a betteropportunity.That said, keep this in mind: the only way to guarantee failure is not to try. So give it a go. We’ll give you somepointers to increase your chances of success.
 
How to write an op-ed
Here are some tips on writing a good op-ed that just might be accepted by your local newspaper.
• Make it timely. An op-ed on the national debt has a better shot of running now than, say, an op-ed on
acid rain. Hook your op-ed to an anniversary, a new study, Congressional hearings, bill introductions, etc.
Newspapers love anniversaries. A perennial favorite is Thanksgiving. If you’re a student, you could write an
op-ed shortly before Thanksgiving about the many things you’re thankful for, and then write about your worriesfor the future, like your concerns about like climate change.
• Use a grabby, compelling lede. (That’s newspaper-speak – and spelling – for your opening sentence.)
boring lede is a killer. Even if you place the op-ed somewhere, no one will read it. The opening sentenceand paragraph tells the reader, this is worth reading or, I shouldn’t waste my time. Get the reader’s attention.Punch the reader in the face (metaphorically), and then explain why you just punched him.
• People want to be informed, but they also want to be entertained. Make your op-ed informative, but also makeit entertaining. Obviously, not all op-eds lend themselves to entertainment. An op-ed on Darfur, for example.• In most op-eds, you are trying to persuade. Build a logical argument. Be specific, and back up your assertions
 with facts and statistics. But – don’t bog the reader down with jargon or too many statistics. Give readers the
minimum background they need to understand your case. Mention your opponents’ claims and dismantle them with common sense, past history, contradicting facts, moral outrage – whatever it takes. Anticipate the strongestarguments of the other side. You are on the battlefield of ideas. Be cunning. As you demolish your opponents’position, conceal the weaknesses of your argument. Do not repeat the other side’s arguments if repetition lends
them credence.
• Make doubly sure that your facts are accurate. Then check again to make sure your facts are accurate. One
inaccurate fact can discredit your whole piece.
• Above all, don’t be boring. Read any op-ed Henry Kissinger has ever written for the Washington Post. If youcan. If no one reads your op-ed, you’ve messed up the mission. (Unless your audience is a narrow group of 
experts who are willing to wade through boring copy.) Of course, if your op-ed is boring, it won’t be accepted
anyway – unless you’re Henry Kissinger.• If you’re not a natural writer, and you are not completely confident in the power of your writing, get editorial
help – either a ghostwriter, or a good editor, or a friend who’s an English major, or a friend who writes for thestudent newspaper. Submitting badly written op-eds is the surest way to have your op-ed rejected.
• You are writing an op-ed, not an essay. Brevity and conciseness are essential. You need to state your case
quickly, near the top.
• Use a catchy title. Which op-ed would you rather read: one titled “Why Doing Good Is Like Nicotine,” or onetitled “Donors Report That Philanthropy Is Habit Forming.”

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