Writing an Op-Ed

 December 19, 2007

Last week we shared tips on writing a letter to the editor, a good way to express your opinion or respond to a recently published article.

However, if you want to write a longer piece to get across your message, you need to consider writing an Op Ed (opinion editorial). Like letters, newspapers receive many submissions a day – hundreds for some major newspapers. Your submission must be timely, newsworthy, well-written, well-argued and convincing.

Find out the guidelines. You need to find out who to send it to, what format (as a word attachment or the body of the text), what the word limit is (typically between 500 and 700 words) and any other rules or guidelines. Most newspapers will accept an Op Ed only if it is exclusive to their publication.

Keep the topic relevant
. Op Eds in local and regional newspapers are most effective – and most likely to be printed – if they have a local angle and are relevant to the newspaper’s audience. Use local examples and or statistics that are understandable to a general audience.  If your topic is timely in that it relates to or references wider news stories or issues you will increase your chance of publication.

Submit for consideration. Because an Op Ed is a much longer piece than a letter with a few paragraphs, you may want to provide an introduction and summary when you submit the commentary. In the email, be sure to include the following:

  • briefly summarize the subject and why this is important
  • provide brief biographical information on the author (one sentence is generally sufficient)
  • tell them that you are submitting this to them exclusively (you can submit it to other publications later if it’s not picked up)
  • provide your contact details (e-mail and phone) so that they can get in touch if they have questions, plan to run it, or wish to make edits.

Follow up. It may help to place a phone call a couple of days later to see if they’ve had time to make a decision on publishing your commentary. You may wish to also specify that you need a decision within a short time frame (minimum of two days).  That way you will be free to send to other publications if you are not successful initially.  Note: it can sometimes be difficult to get any response at all in relation to a submitted Op Ed—newspapers do not always inform authors of their decision not to run an article, and occasionally, they won’t inform you when they do decide to run it.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Don’t be discouraged if your Op Ed is not picked up.  If it’s well written and timely, it is certainly worth submitting to an alternative publication.

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