What is an op-ed? An op-ed (short for opposite the editorial page) is a written piece in a newspaper or magazine expressing the opinion of a writer who isn’t affiliated with the newspaper. The piece is usually written to address a certain topic or in response to another article on the same platform. An op-ed can be a great way of establishing or building credibility in your community or field. But due to the value attached to this space, it can be hard to get the chance especially for leading newspapers. When writing an op-ed, you will need to make an argument that editors find useful.  

Tips for writing an op-ed article

Before you begin writing an op-ed, here are a few tips that will enhance your piece.

Be an expert in the field

Is your contribution to the field recognized by others? This doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert in everything, It means that you should be an expert in the area you are writing on. It is also helpful to have a unique voice. If you aren’t an expert in the field, your personal experience can prove useful.

Have an original idea

It can be hard to find an idea that is truly unique. However, you need to ask yourself if what you are about to write has been said or shared before., Particularly when you propose a solution to a problem, it is important to understand who else has proposed that solution before However, if your solution to the problem is your business model, you will look like you are promoting your business. Editors rarely publish promotional op-eds, no matter how unique the idea may be. Remember that your goal is to come out as an expert in the field rather than promote a certain product.

Be timely

Timeliness is a key aspect of an op-ed article. Even for evergreen issues such as taxes and health care, consider how to inject your expertise or opinion into a current hot topic. Editors will be more likely to publish pieces addressing timely issues, or evergreen issues tied to a recent occurrence. 

Find the “nut graf”

The “nut graf” is commonly used in journalism. It refers to “so what?” and is meant to show the readers and the editors how the issue affects them and why they should care. What is the point you are trying to get across? What is its impact? How will this issue affect the wallets, future plans, and grandchildren of your readers?

The paragraph answering these questions should be somewhere near the beginning of your piece. However, when you are done with the writing, you should be able to ask yourself what your point is. If you are unable to give a short and simple answer in one sentence, your piece isn’t ready to pitch yet. 

Write straight to the point

When writing a guest commentary, you need to be concise and to the point. The majority of outlets have a ceiling of 800 words, but this may vary from outlet to outlet. Editors prefer writers who can put their point across. Therefore, you need to ensure that you get to the point immediately. Try to minimize your number of words as much as possible.

Don’t mix issues

In a focused op-ed, you should drill down a core part of the topic and focus solely on it. It is hard to exhaustively cover a wide topic in less than 800 words. Therefore, you should avoid mixing up issues.

Format Of An Op-Ed Article

Here are the key parts of an op-ed article:

Topic and theme

For your op-ed format to be successful, it should have a clearly defined theme or topic. You will need to state your beginning paragraph. The theme provides another dimension to the topic. What is the point? Why is this point important? You should introduce your theme early on to serve as the compass for your argument.

Research

While your op-ed piece allows you to air your own voice while expressing your options, a good piece should be grounded on good research. This is why you need to use data, quotations, personal observations, citations, anecdotes, and examples to support your argument. You can carry out research by legwork, observation, primary materials, interviews and visiting locations relevant to your argument. You can also do your research through the library, internet research and academic materials such as scholarly papers.

Opening

It’s important to pay  special attention to the opening sentence of your op-ed. This is because it serves as a hook that grabs the reader’s attention. You can use a surprising fact, strong claim, mystery or metaphor to entice the reader to continue reading the paper. The opening also acts as a foundation for your argument.

Ending

The ending of your op-ed usually answers or echoes the introduction. This is usually the last but most memorable part of your write-up. It should have a final epiphany or a call to action. You can use an open ending where you state your conclusion instead of suggesting. You can also have a closed ending where you resolve the points you have made in your article. 

Voice

You will need to have a strong voice for your op-ed article. In most cases, columns should have a conversational tone. Therefore, you need to imagine that you are having a conversation with the reader so that you write short and focused articles. However, there can be a wide range of voices used in an op-ed piece, including informative, observant, introspective, plaintive, self-effacing, introspective, humorous, sophisticated and many more.

At times, the voice you use will depend on the publication you are writing for. One way for perfecting your voice is by reading the column of the newspaper or magazine you intend to write for. This will give you a clear sense of how your piece should sound.

Revision checklist

When revising your op-ed piece, there are a few things you need to check. These include:

  •         Clarity
  •         Unity and coherence(the majority are conversation while others are authoritative)
  •         Accuracy of paraphrasing and direct quotations
  •         All sources are properly credited. However, formal citations aren’t necessary
  •         Consistency of the op-ed column

Where to submit an op-ed to major news outlets

Now that you have written your op-ed, you will need to consider where to submit it (if you have already not done that). Some outlets prefer for you to submit only pitch ideas, and others prefer full drafts. For example, The Washington Post accepts drafts of full submissions here. If you want to find other outlets that may be interested in your op-ed, you should follow these guidelines:

Contact the news outlet

After writing a great piece that is dripping with your opinion, you will need to create a list of newspapers, magazines, and websites that you would like to submit to. This step is fairly easy and the difficult part is actually having your op-ed published. If you chose a hot topic and submit quickly, you will have a fairly great chance of receiving a response.

  •         Who you are
  •         Your topic
  •         Your opinion on the topic
  •         Why you think it is important to the reader

Note that you don’t have to be famous or have written hundreds of articles to be published. However, if you have these, they will help a lot. If you don’t have any previously written work, this can work against you. You will, therefore, need to think of a way of validating your opinion. You can learn more about writing an op-ed for the New York Times.

Follow up

If you have already sent your op-ed to a certain publication, you will need to follow up after a reasonable period of time. If your op-ed article is grounded on a particular event, you need to follow up after a day or two. You can ask the editor if they have gotten a chance to review the article as you would like to send it to other publications. They are likely to revert back to you.

If your op-ed is on an evergreen topic, you can wait for about one week. But remember to follow-up with the editors. By maintaining a dialogue with them, they will be more likely to recognize you in the future. Bear in mind that a national newspaper will not consider your op-ed if you submit to more than one platform at the same time.

Start writing

An op-ed article can be a great way of getting recognized as an expert in your field, promoting a message you believe in, or growing your business. Bear in mind that the op-ed article should be well expressed to support or contradict a certain viewpoint. It should inspire people to read your piece and learn more about your work. With the above guidelines, you will be in a position to submit a competitive op-ed at top outlets.