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Tips for Writing an Op-Ed

Op-eds are different in style and tone from journal articles and other forms of academic writing.

Here are a few suggestions for successful op-eds:

State an opinion – By definition, op-eds are statements of opinion on controversial matters of public interest. Argue your side strongly; don’t hedge, equivocate or defer. Build your opinion around facts (i.e., reports, surveys, statistics, trends) making the opinion stronger and harder to rebut.

Get to the point – State the central thesis of your op-ed in one sentence near the beginning of your piece, usually no further down than the third sentence.

Structure your piece logically – You should begin with a provocative or original thought that grabs readers and attracts them to read the rest of your piece. Then state your thesis and back up your argument. Last, conclude with a fresh angle or new point that cinches your argument with a single, cohesive message. For example, if you’ve devoted your piece to a public policy failure, the conclusion is a good place to offer the solution.

Keep it simple – Write simple, declarative, informal sentences. Compose paragraphs of one to four sentences, rarely more. Use quotations sparingly, if at all. Attribute if you must, but keep titles as short as possible.

Keep it short – Most newspapers won’t consider op-eds longer than 750 words. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was 269 words. A concise, to-the-point 500 words is infinitely preferable to a meandering, meaningless 1,000 words.

When possible, entertain – Remember that no one gets paid to read your piece. Don’t be afraid to try a little humor, tell a good anecdote or otherwise liven up your copy.

Tips for Choosing a Good Op-Ed Topic

  • Be timely – Op-eds discuss current news. “Current” means tomorrow, today or this week, not last month. If you have an opinion on a topic that surfaces in the news periodically, it’s a good idea to write the bulk of your piece in advance, then “top” it with whatever the most current news on the matter happens to be.
  • Be original – It’s fine to write about topics that already receive a lot of coverage, but you need to have an original, fresh or provocative angle if you expect to see your piece in print. Alternatively, you may enjoy success with a topic that hasn’t been extensively covered, but may be equally or more important to readers.
  • Consider your audience – Newspapers are intended for a mass audience. As a result, you will have the most success with a topic that is important or meaningful to a large number of people from many different walks of life. If you would like your piece to appear in a national newspaper, write about an issue of national significance; if you would like it to appear in Ohio newspapers, focus on an Ohio issue.
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