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.) A
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
• 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.”